“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 launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on board a Delta IV-Heavy rocket on August 12, 2018; 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.

Alongside analysis of data from Parker Solar Probe and other active missions, prototype development continues in preparation for future proposal opportunities. This year’s project will be heavily focused on testing a new Faraday cup design developed over the last year. Students will work 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 space-like environment. In addition, students will be introduced to physics and data analysis principles that underpin space plasma laboratory work.

Team members may have other opportunities to enhance their hands-on experience. For example, two students from the 2015-16 team were selected for co-ops at JPL most likely as a result of the work done as a team member. 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 course is classified as a hybrid course but will mainly meet remotely, following university public health informed guidelines. In the past, our team has typically met at Wednesdays 11am-12pm, CSRB 1234 or CSRB CAEN Lab, but a best time will be finalized for each subteam to meet via BlueJeans video conference (distance synchronous communication) for this semester. A two-term commitment will begin January 2021.

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.

Open Lab Meeting:

More information

Parker Solar Probe

First-year undergraduates through masters graduate students are welcome to apply, and all will be encouraged to stay on the team for more than the two-semester 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.

Mechanical Subteam (2 Students)

Specific Tasks: Design and build housing and structural elements for team instrumentation and test environment

Preferred Skills: Experience with mechanical design, CAD modeling, and machining

Likely Majors: Mechanical Engineering

Electrical Subteam (3 Students)

Specific Tasks: Design and test low noise current to voltage conversion circuit and multiplexer systems, select parts, layout boards, confirm performance, test breadboard circuits, ensure vacuum compatibility and transmission of signals into/out of vacuum test chamber

Preferred Skills: Experience with circuit design/construction

Likely Majors: CS (All), CE, Electrical Engineering

Software & Analysis Subteam (4 Students)

Specific Tasks: Develop and implement interfaces between sensor and instrument prototypes, laboratory equipment, and desktop computers using Python and National Instruments data acquisition boards, implement calibration and real time display and signal processing, extract and analyze instrument data.

Preferred Skills: Python/IDL/LabVIEW/MATLAB programming experience

Likely Majors: CS (All), CE, Information (SI)

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
Associate 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. He 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 will make history in 2018 as the first human-made object to plunge into the solar corona.

Students: 7-15

Likely Majors: Any, CE, CS (All), EE, ME, Information (SI)

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

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

IP: Students who successfully match to this project team will be required to sign an Intellectual Property (IP) Agreement prior to participation in January 2021.

Course Substitutions: Honors