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Space Physics and Atmospheric Research Center

The Space Physics and Atmospheric Research Center (SPARC) faculty and cadets perform basic research in the solar terrestrial environment and investigate how perturbations in that environment can negatively impact the performance and longevity of U.S. Air Force space assets. SPARC specializes in

SPARC specializes in development of aggressively miniaturized payloads that fly on experimental spacecraft to make observations of the ionosphere. SPARC then works with cadets to incorporate these measurements into the broader framework of the ionospheric system, with the long-term goal of developing physics-based predictive models eventually leading to the ability to forecast the geospace environment.

  • Miniaturized payloads
  • Space physics
  • Applied physics
  • Delivery of the final of six Integrated Miniaturized Electrostatic Analyzer (iMESA) instruments for the DoD Space Test Program (STP)
  • Delivery of the Falcon Solid State Energetic Electron Detector in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory Designing the Falcon Orbital Debris Experiment (Falcon ODE) in collaboration with NASA for the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC)
  • Designing the Falcon ODE in collaboration with NASA for the AFOTEC. Falcon ODE will provide calibrated radar and optical targets for the new Air Force Space Fence and the NASA Orbital Debris office
FalconSAT-7 NASA
Reentry STP-H3
Sprites II Mission
FalconSAT-7 NASA

Testing of the engineering model of FalconSAT-7 on the NASA "Vomit comet." Cadets Nelson and Latch (left and right) worked with Mr. Trey Quiller (center) to test the deployment of the photon sieve. The photon sieve will be used to image the sun, and will be the first deployable imager tested in space. Launch of the FalconSAT-7 with the photon sieve is expected in early 2018 on the Space Test Program STP-2 mission. (Courtesy SPARC)

Reentry STP-H3

Reentry of the Space Test Program STP-H3 experiment. STP-H3 was deployed on the International Space Station from May 2011 to Aug 2013. The SPARC Canary instrument was installed on STP-H3, and over 100 USAFA cadets participated in ground operations of the Canary instrument while it was on the ISS. Canary investigated the interaction of the space environment with the ISS. (Courtesy NASA)

Sprites II Mission

Red sprite image taken on the successful National Science Foundation "Sprites II" mission. This image was taken from a Gulfstream V aircraft at 45,000 ft on a mission dedicated to studying the mysterious electrical discharges known as sprites. Sprites occur in the mesosphere at altitudes of 75km. SPARC researchers led a multi-university team on two NSF sponsored flight missions. The researchers used a variety of image intensified high speed digital cameras to record images and spectra of sprites at up to 15,000 frames per second. (Courtesy SPARC)

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Dr. M. Geoff McHarg
(719) 333-2460