Astrophysics Branch (Code SSA)


Chief: Jessie Dotson

Assistant Chief: Christine Martinez

Branch Office: 650.604.5528



Observations, Instrument Development, and Experiments

We perform observations from ground-based and space-born telescopes to better understand the origin of stars and planetary systems and support space missions. We had more successful Spitzer space telescope proposals than any other organization, we have performed observations from the Hubble space telescope and space mission spectrometers such as Cassini VIMS, and our scientists are so well respected that they chair and sit on observatory time allocation committees.


The SOFIA water vapor monitor

We develop instruments and detectors to improve the capabilities of ground based and airborn telescopes. This is possible thanks to our scientists expertise in IR observations and our highly specialized instrument development shop tailored to producing scientific equipment and rapid prototyping which has produced flight hardware for airborne and space use. The team of technicians has extensive expertise with high vacuum systems, cryogenics, and optics. But that's not all…

Lab Facilities

Ice Spectroscopy and photo-chemistry:

Facilities include High-vacuum cryogenic equipment to simulate space ices, from interstellar grains at 10 K to icy surfaces of planets, comets, and satellites in the outer Solar System.

Alexandrite, Nd/YAG, and dye lasers and associated optical instrumentation for the vaporization, and photo-luminescence, and spectroscopic analysis of materials.

Chromatography for the analysis of organic molecules from meteorites and simulation experiments.


Instrumentation for transmission and reflection spectroscopy from the Vacuum UV through the Far IR.


Gas-phase spectroscopy: A Pulsed slit discharge nozzle that produces ultracold, very low density gas and plasmas combined with a high sensitivity cavity ringdown spectrometer.



SOFIA Gaining New Instrument

Britt Rawcliffe at Spaceflight Insider (6/5) wrote that the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is getting a new instrument called the Echelon-Cross-Echelle Spectrograph (EXES), which stated testing back in April. SOFIA program scientist Pamela Marcum said that the addition of the instrument will give SOFIA an “unprecedented ability to study celestial objects at wavelengths unavailable from ground-based telescopes.”

Kepler Telescope Has Already Found Candidate Planets Under K2 Campaign

Discovery News (6/5, Klotz, 252K) reports that Thomas Barclay of the Ames Research Center said that in just the first nine days of the Kepler telescopes new observational campaign, K2, which has restored the telescope’s observational capabilities after losing two reaction wheels, “three more candidate planets, all around the size of Jupiter, circling relatively bright stars,” have been discovered.

SOFIA Declared Operational

Flight Global (6/3, 2K) reports that NASA declared that the Stratospheric Observatory of Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) telescope is now operational, a milestone which comes several months after Obama Administration released its 2015 budget that “effectively” grounds the program.

Kepler Telescope Resumes Scientific Observations

Spaceflight Now (6/3, Clark, 3K) reports that starting May 30, the Kepler telescope has been taking new scientific observations under the “K2” extension plan, which is allowing the telescope to operate on only two out of four functioning reaction wheels. under this “new lease on life,” the telescope will undertake nine observational campaigns over the next two years.
Syndicate content