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 Projects

SSL instruments and detectors are currently operating on more than a dozen spacecraft in orbit, including the FUSE (Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopy Explorer), IMAGE (Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration), GALEX (Galaxy Evolution Explorer), and the MESSENGER mission to Mercury; the ISUAL (Imager for Sprites and Upper Atmospheric Lightning) instrument, Polar, Geotail and the four-spacecraft Cluster missions in Earth orbit; the Ulysses, Wind and SoHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) missions in orbit around the Sun, and the Mars Global Surveyor mission at Mars. The complete payloads of RHESSI (Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager), FAST (Fast Auroral SnapshoT), and the CHIPS (Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer) University Explorer were developed at SSL, and all of these spacecraft are being operated from SSL.

Under development at SSL are detectors for HST COS (Hubble Space Telescope Cosmic Origins Spectrograph), the STEREO/IMPACT (Solar-TErrestrial RElations Observatory/In-situ Measurements of Particles and CME Transients) suite of instruments, and THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms), a 5 spacecraft Explorer Mission. SSL is studying an exciting new major space mission-SNAP (SuperNova Acceleration Probe), in collaboration with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.

SSL's balloon-borne instruments include 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 ExtraTerrestrial 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.


Outreach Programs

SSL is a national leader in Science Education. Its programs include the Center for Science Education @ Space Sciences Laboratory which aims to:
• Improve teaching and learning of science, mathematics, and technology
• Facilitate and increase scientists' involvement in education and public outreach
• Increase the participation of underserved groups in space science
• Adapt space science research discoveries for broad audiences
• Provide easy and equitable access to space science resources
• Increase the scientific literacy of the general public, and the Science Education Gateway, a national consortium of scientists, museums, and educators, working together to bring the latest science to students, teachers, and the general public.

SSL also has a CalSpace Center of Excellence, funded jointly by the campus, California Space Institute (a UC Multi Campus Research Unit, and SSL & UCB funds).

Staff and Facilities
SSL employs about 400 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 National Laboratory.

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 five Class 1000 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.

Stephen Beckwith
(510) 643-3324
Mailing address

7 Gauss Way, Berkeley, CA 94720 - 7450

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of the campus.
March 13, 2019
Shannon Hall
A team led by associate research chemist Kees Welten at the Space Sciences Laboratory will be one of a number of groups around the country receiving untouched lunar samples that NASA has had in storage since they were collected nearly 50 years ago in Apollo missions. Welten's team will be studying a core collected by Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan, looking for new insights on the impact history of the moon. The scientists expect that the insights may apply to other planets in the solar system, including Earth, whose craters have long since disappeared. Stories on this topic have appeared in more than 100 sources around the world, including and the Daily Heralds.
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February 4, 2019
Nola Taylor Redd
Astronomer Barry Welsh, of Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory, and a colleague from Clarion University have detected traces of gas emanating from comets evaporating in the heat of a star they're crashing into, and the discovery is opening up new insights into the formation of our solar system. Their study object is Eta Corvi, a star that is both larger and younger than our sun, and located about 59 light-years away. Welsh calls Eta Corvi a "potential solar system in the making."