UTSA-SwRI Space Physics
Graduate Program

Science Missions



Graphene Carbon foils are used in space plasma instruments to detect ions, neutral atoms, or electrons (Allegrini et al. 2016, Journal of Geophysical Research). They are extremely thin (of the order of a hundred atomic layers) and supported by fine grids over areas as large as tens of square centimeters. While they enable detection and characterization of the plasma particles, they also degrade measurements (e.g., time-of-flight to determine the speed of the particles) due to effects such as angular scattering and energy straggling. These unwanted effects usually scale with foil thickness and that is why we try to use the [...]




The Two Wide-angle Imaging Neutral-atom Spectrometers (TWINS) mission is a NASA Explorer Mission-of-Opportunity that has been stereoscopically imaging the Earth's magnetosphere since June 2008. TWINS comprises of two identical spacecraft and extends our understanding of magnetospheric structure and processes by providing simultaneous Energetic Neutral Atom (ENA) and UV (Lyman-alpha) images from two widely separated locations. Stereo imaging is yielding substantial progress in characterization of the global three-dimensional distribution of the ring current and large-scale structures in the magnetosphere. TWINS' extended science mission focus is to: Determine the structure and evolution of the storm-time magnetosphere Understand the energization and transport of magnetospheric [...]




Swift is a first-of-its-kind multi-wavelength observatory dedicated to the study of gamma-ray burst (GRB) science. Its three instruments work together to observe GRBs and afterglows in the gamma-ray, X-ray, ultraviolet, and optical wavebands. The main mission objectives for Swift are to: Determine the origin of gamma-ray bursts. Classify gamma-ray bursts and search for new types. Determine how the burst evolves and interacts with the surroundings. Use gamma-ray bursts to study the early universe. Perform the first sensitive hard X-ray survey of the sky. SwRI Faculty Involvement Pete Roming Alumni Involvement Janie de la Rosa, Ph.D.


Solar Orbiter


Solar Orbiter, the first probe in the joint ESA-NASA HELiophysical EXplorers (HELEX) program, aims to better our understanding of the solar atmosphere and the dynamic solar wind. Solar Orbiter is scheduled to launch in 2017 with a primary mission duration of 7 years. The orbit of Solar Orbiter - between 0.9 AU at aphelion and 0.28 AU at perihelion - will allow for a comprehensive study of solar wind evolution. Additionally, over the course of the mission, Solar Orbiter will increase its inclination to the solar equator over time, through the use of gravity assists from Venus, and reach an [...]

Solar Orbiter2023-05-25T20:14:21+00:00



Rosetta The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission is a milestone in space exploration as it has successfully chased, gone into orbit around, and landed a probe on a comet. Rosetta is studying the Jupiter-family comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko with a combination of remote sensing and in situ measurements. After a 10-year tour through the solar system, Rosetta arrived at comet 67P on August 6, 2014 and deployed the Philae lander on November 12, 2014. The main goal of Rosetta is to characterize the environment surrounding the comet and the comet nucleus as the comet penetrates further into the inner solar system. Rosetta will [...]


New Horizons


New Horizons New Horizons is a NASA mission that is exploring the outer edges of our solar system, and is the first mission to study Pluto and its moons. The main goal of New Horizons is to expand our knowledge of the primitive icy bodies and dwarf planets beyond the gas giants in our solar system. Along with a fly-by of the last unexplored planet in our solar system, New Horizons will also be studying Kuiper Belt Objects beyond the orbit of Pluto. The spacecraft is equipped with several cameras and spectrometers, plasma instruments to study the solar wind and other [...]

New Horizons2023-05-25T20:14:33+00:00

Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission


Magnetospheric Multiscale The NASA Magnetospheric MultiScale (MMS) mission, headed by a team of scientists from SwRI and several other institutions, is a four-spacecraft constellation that will study the microphysics of the dayside and nightside magnetic reconnection diffusion regions. Magnetic reconnection is a universal process that happens throughout the solar system, in astrophysical objects, and in laboratory plasmas. While the physical processes that allow for reconnection to happen are on the single-particle scale, the effects of reconnection at Earth and other planets are global. MMS will "unlock the secrets of reconnection" with a suite of instruments capable of characterizing the electromagnetic plasma [...]

Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission2023-05-25T20:14:38+00:00



Juno The goal of the Juno mission is to investigate the origin, interior structure, atmospheric composition, atmospheric dynamics, and polar magnetosphere of Jupiter. Juno launched in August 2011 and was inserted into orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Juno will make maps of the gravity, atmospheric composition, and magnetic field of Jupiter, as well as image the aurora and determine the plasma processes responsible for the aurora. First-time images of the polar region of Jupiter will be captured, and the new technique of passive microwave sounding will be used to study the deep atmospheric regions of Jupiter Ultimately, Juno will provide [...]




IMAGE The Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) was the first satellite with the primary mission of imaging the Earth's inner magnetosphere. IMAGE used an array of remote sensing instruments to "see the invisible". IMAGE was launched in 2000 and operated until 2005. IMAGE carried three Energetic Neutral Atom (ENA) imagers to observe a large range of energies of ENAs along with UV imagers and a radar instrument. IMAGE provided valuable global images of the Earth's magnetosphere that led to important insights into the interactions between the solar wind, ions in the magnetosphere, and neutral atoms from the Earth's atmosphere. [...]




The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission is designed to explore the nature of the interactions between the solar wind and the interstellar medium at the edge of our solar system. IBEX carries two energetic neutral atom (ENA) imagers that observes ENAs created at the edge of the heliosphere flowing umimpeded towards the inner solar system. The IBEX mission has made the first all-sky maps of the boundary between our solar system and local interstellar medium, resulting in new discoveries of plasma interactions and insight into the local interstellar magnetic field. IBEX has also been utilized to study ENAs produced by interactions in the [...]

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