Space Sciences Laboratory

The Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) is an Organized Research Unit (ORU) of the Berkeley campus reporting to the Vice Chancellor for Research. SSL's primary goal is to foster research in space-related sciences and to provide education for the next generation of space scientists. Research at SSL, led by Berkeley faculty and SSL Senior Fellows, focuses on experiments and observations carried out in space as well as theoretical and basic research.

Since its inception in 1959, SSL has participated in over 50 NASA space science missions, including the Apollo, Mars, Discovery, and Explorer programs, as well as many international space missions. SSL researchers have pioneered the development of instrumentation for study of the Sun, the interplanetary medium, the planets, and the Earth; for ultraviolet, x-ray, gamma-ray, and infrared astronomy; and for the measurement of the cosmic microwave background. SSL provides the engineering and technical capabilities required to develop and fabricate individual space instruments, an entire scientific payload for a spacecraft, or an entire space mission from start-to-finish-complete with in-house instrument design and fabrication; instrument and spacecraft integration and testing; launch support; mission and science operations, including commanding the spacecraft and bringing the data down to SSL's own ground station; and data processing and analysis.


Current Research Projectssatelite disk

SSL instruments and detectors are currently operating on more than a dozen spacecraft in orbit, including ICON

(The Ionospheric Connection Explorer), Parker Solar Probe, GOLD (Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk), MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution), RBSP/Van Allen Probes (formerly known as the Radiation Belt Storm Probes), NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array), COS (Hubble Space Telescope Cosmic Origins Spectrograph), THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms), STEREO/IMPACT (Solar-TErrestrial RElations Observatory/In-situ Measurements of Particles and CME Transients), and SoHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory in Solar Orbit.

SSL's balloon-borne instruments include GRIPS (Gamma-Ray Imager/Polarimeter for Solar flares), COSI (Compton Spectrometer and Imager), MATTDOR-TF (Middle Atmosphere Transport Timescales Age Distribution and Ozone Recovery-Test flight), MAXIMA and MAXIPOL, designed to study the 2.7K Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), MAXIS (MeV Auroral X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy), MINIS (Miniature Spectrometer), and NCT (Nuclear Compton Telescope). SSL's ground based instruments include ISI (Infrared Spatial Interferometer) at Mt. Wilson, and the AMANDA (Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array). SSL's SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) group developed SETI@home, by far the most sensitive and comprehensive SETI sky survey ever performed. SETI@home has also revolutionized the field of distributed computing.

Staff and Facilities

SSL employs over 250 people in scientific, technical, and administrative positions, including professors, research scientists, students, engineers, technicians, and programmers. Most of the staff works at the Silver Laboratory and Addition building, located in a wooded site near the crest of the Berkeley hills overlooking the Berkeley campus. The rest are located in several campus departments and at Lawrence Berkeley and Livermore National Laboratories.

SSL has the following facilities for space related research: 1) A high bay: a 60 foot high open area with two cranes that allows assembly of large scientific instruments or payloads for high altitude balloons or spacecraft; 2) An 11-meter diameter dish antenna for communication with spacecraft, sending up commands and bringing down the data; 3) A Mission Operations Center and Science Operations Center (MOC/SOC) for the operation of spacecraft and their scientific instruments; 4) Vacuum test and calibration facilities; 5) Fabrication facilities, including Class 10000 clean rooms, vacuum chambers, clean benches, computers, testing equipment, and electronics equipment located in the clean rooms to fabricate space instruments; 6) Five cosmochemistry labs to test lunar samples, meteorites, and other space material to assist in understanding the age of the solar system.

Steven Beckwith
(510) 643-3324
Mailing address

7 Gauss Way, Berkeley, CA 94720 - 7450

In News

September 14, 2021

Planet maven Shannon Curry takes over MAVEN mission to Mars

“I never imagined I would lead a mission to Mars,” said Curry, who is deputy associate director for planetary science and astrobiology at SSL. “My focus is to continue executing our mission and achieving our science goals. We have a killer team, so I am looking forward to the next chapter of MAVEN.”
July 13, 2021

Galactic gamma ray bursts predicted last year show up on schedule

Magnetars are bizarre objects — massive, spinning neutron stars with magnetic fields among the most powerful known, capable of shooting off brief bursts of radio waves so bright they’re visible across the universe. A team of astrophysicists has now found another peculiarity of magnetars: They can emit bursts of low energy gamma rays in a pattern never before seen in any other astronomical object.
February 8, 2021

Emirates Mars Mission, partnering with UC Berkeley, to reach Mars Feb. 9

The Emirates Mars Mission, the first interplanetary exploration undertaken by an Arab nation, is scheduled to reach Mars’ orbit this Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, at 7:41 a.m. PST. The Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) at the University of California, Berkeley, is a partner in the collaboration, having contributed science team members, mission systems engineering support, and the detector and associated electronics for one of the three scientific instruments on board: the Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrograph (EMUS).
January 13, 2021

Astronomers find signature of magnetar outbursts in nearby galaxies

Apart from black holes, magnetars may be the most extreme stars in the universe. With a diameter less than the length of Manhattan, they pack more mass than that of our sun, wield the largest magnetic field of any known object — more than 10 trillion times stronger than a refrigerator magnet — and spin on their axes every few seconds.