This faculty research team presents a chance to join an exciting research group that has won competitive NASA selections to design, build, and test particle instruments for a variety of space-based missions. Sending these detectors out into interplanetary space to measure plasma velocity, density, and temperature of the solar wind increases our understanding of the Sun’s corona and the solar wind. One such mission, the Parker Solar Probe is now in its third orbit around the Sun, getting closer and moving faster than any man-made object has before. As part of a suite of instruments, the Solar Probe Cup (SPC) built by Professor Kasper’s team of scientists and engineers has a front row seat on the spacecraft.

A new mission is emerging: NASA’s Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment (SunRISE) project, which will characterize coronal mass ejections, the most violent type of solar weather. The mission is set to launch in 2023. This MDP team will build a parallel data processing pipeline for the SunRISE mission that will identify planetary emission from outer planets like Jupiter in response to extreme space weather. Additionally, the team will build and operata groundbased radio antenna array whose frequency coverage partially overlaps with that of SunRISE. This antenna array will enable a myriad of student researchincluding numerical simulation of the antenna gain pattern, calibration by drone, tracking low frequency bursts from lightning, and imaging the brightest galactic sourcesSunRISE is expected to launch in mid-2024 and operate for at least 12 months in orbit.  The MDP team has already deployed a 2 radio antenna and have made progress in creating additional software analysis pipelines for future SunRISE data.  In this next term of MDP, the team is aiming to deploy a full 6 element radio interferometer at nearby Peach Mountain and build a software analysis pipeline for imaging the data.

Alongside analysis of data from Parker Solar Probe and other active missions, prototype development continues in preparation for future proposal opportunities. Students will work remotely on engineering analysis, laboratory test design, project planning and related activities that will ultimately lead to test and performance evaluation of the instrument in a spacelike environment. MDP students will be introduced to physics and data analysis principles that underpin space plasma laboratory work.

The Space Physics Research Lab has an extensive history of successful instrument builds that have flown or currently in orbit about some planetary body in the solar system such as Cassini, the mission to Saturn, SAM, an instrument onboard the Mars Rover Curiosity and much more.

Meeting time and location:

For academic credit, our MDP full team typically meets on Wednesdays 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm ET in CSRB 2238.  Each subteam also arranges a convenient time to meet and work together. A two-term commitment will begin January 2023.

In-person participation is expected.  Some team meetings and activities may be held remotely.

Team organization:

Each subteam has a team leader that reports to and meets with the faculty PI. The teams are flexibly structured to enhance creativity and opportunity for student growth.

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Firstyear undergraduates through masters graduate students are welcome to apply, and all will be encouraged to stay on the team for more than the twosemester minimum. Leadership roles are available in the lab, and experienced students will be a natural fit for these positions as their knowledge grows over time. Students apply to a specific role on a team as follows:

Mechanical Subteam (2 Students)

Preferred Skills: Completed/taking ME 250 or AERO 205; Solidworks/CAD modeling; Machining(Mill); Mechanical Design; FEA; Matlab/Simulink; CNC; General Machining

Likely Majors: ME, AERO, MSE

Specific Tasks: Design and build permanent fixtures for radio antenna.  Design and deploy hardware setup for self-sufficient radio array.  Provide support for hardware in ground array.

Electrical Subteam (3 Students)

Preferred Skills: Completed EECS 215/EECS 314; Completed/taking EECS 230; Completed/taking EECS 411; Circuit design; Radio Design; Soldering; LabVIEW

Likely Majors: EE

Specific Tasks: Alter bandpass filter in LWA antenna to observe frequencies below 20 MHz.  Track down electromagnetic noise sources from within the antenna & receiver systems.  Provide support for hardware in ground array.

Software & Analysis Subteam (2 Students)

Preferred Skills: Programming experience: Python/MATLAB/IDL (emphasis on Python); taken/taking EECS 280; data analysis; signal analysis/processing (taken/taking EECS 216); website design experience (HTML/CSS/Javascript)

Likely Majors: CSE/CS-LSA, EE, PHYSICS, CE, SI

Specific Tasks: Design transient array detection, beamforming, and classification database for SunRISE.  Provide support for computer hardware in the ground array.  Design software to process ground array’s data with FX correlation.

Apprentice Researcher (3 Students)

Preferred Skills: Interest in project material, willingness to develop skills. Open to first-year and second-year undergraduate students ONLY.

Likely Majors: Any

Faculty Sponsor

Justin Kasper

PhD, Professor, Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering

Dr. Kasper designs sensors for spacecraft that explore extreme environments in space from the surface of the Sun to the outer edges of the solar system. Recipient of the 2020 Copernicus Medal, Dr. Kasper is interested in understanding the forces that lead to solar flares and the solar wind, a stream of particles heated to millions of degrees in the Sun’s atmosphere, or corona. His major results concern heating, instabilities, and helium in the solar corona and solar wind, and the impact of space weather on society. In 2007, he used measurements by the Voyager spacecraft to detect the termination shock, a massive shockwave surrounding our solar system. He has served on advisory committees for NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the National Academy of Sciences. He currently leads the SWEAP Investigation, an international team of scientists and engineers building sensors that will collect samples of the Sun for the NASA Solar Probe Plus spacecraft, a mission of exploration that made history as the first human-made object to plunge into the solar corona. He is also the Principal Investigator for SunRISE, a recently funded NASA Heliophysics Mission of Opportunity that will launch 6 satellites into GEO orbit in 2023 to create the first synthetic aperture in space, imaging radio frequencies from 0.1 – 25 MHz.

PhD, Assistant Research Scientist, Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering

Dr. Mojtaba Akhavan-Tafti is the Principal Investigator of the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission Early-Career Grant, titled: “Magnetic Reconnection between Coalescing Magnetic Flux Bundles,” utilizing state-of-the-art in-situ observations and global kinetic simulations.  He also has experience analyzing spacecraft data from Parker Solar Probe to look for magnetic switchbacks in its data.  He is also the head of SunRISE outreach, and the primary instructor for the MDP course.  His interests also span into entrepreneurship, having started a company to bring a cutting-edge solar panel device to market. 

Students: 10-12 students


Summer Opportunity: Summer research fellowships may be available for qualifying students.

Citizenship Requirements: This project is open to all students on campus.

IP/ NDA: Students who successfully match to this project team will be required to sign an Intellectual Property (IP) Agreement prior to participation in January 2023.

Location: In-person participation is expected.  Some team meetings and activities may be held remotely.

Course Substitutions: Honors


How to Apply

Full MDP project list & application information can be found here