Space Physics Lab

Space Physics Lab

The Space Physics group in the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University carries out a broad range of research spanning from the Sun and solar corona, through the solar wind and terrestrial and planetary magnetospheres, and encompassing the global heliosphere and its interaction with the local interstellar medium. Prof. David J. McComas is the principal investigator for numerous NASA Heliophysics missions and instruments, making Princeton the lead institution for these programs.

The New Space Physics Lab at 171 Broadmead is being set up to develop instruments for IMAP and other future NASA missions.  Space flight instruments will be mounted in the large chamber with various species of ions and neutral with energies from ~0.5 -30 keV produced in a source at the far end of the beamline.  Below are a few photos documenting the progress on the development of our lab.

Lab Updates

Space Physics Group Photo summer 2023

27 July 2023: This picture was taken on 27 July 2023 to celebrate the last week of the summer interns at the Princeton Space Physics group. To the left of Professor McComas is Osvaldo ("Ozzy") Flores, a rising junior from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE). Behind Dr. Jamie Rankin is Joseph ("Joey") Avallone, who is a rising sophomore from the MAE department and joined us through the Undergraduate Summer Research Program (USRP). Ozzy and Joey conducted carbon foil-related projects this summer, and their hard work has yielded great progress in their individual projects. They will be missed in the lab!


SWAPI Mechanical Assembly

15 October 2021: This week, we started the initial mechanical assembly of our first space instrument in the Space Physics Lab. Pictured on the clean bench is the engineering model of the Solar Wind and Pickup Ion (SWAPI) instrument. A few years from now, a nearly identical flight version of this instrument will fly onboard NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) mission (currently scheduled for launch in February 2025). The coming weeks will be an exciting time as we prepare this instrument and our ion beam facility for the first rounds of testing! Pictured from left to right are Postdoc Michael DeLuca, Instrument Technician Danny Everett, Mechanical Engineer Ted Roemer, and Laboratory Manager Brian Fennimore.



Bake-out chamber in place

1 July 2021: Today marks exactly one year that we have been working continuously in the Space Physics Laboratory at Broadmead and we are delighted with all of the progress we have made despite the COVID limitations and restrictions! In addition to multiple improvements to our main beamline over the past months, today we also sealed up and began rough pumping on our new bake-out chamber. Pictured from left to right with this chamber are rising Senior Sydney Evans, Postdoc Michael DeLuca, Associate Research Scholar Jamie Rankin, and Postdoc Riddhi Bandyopadhyay.



Bake-out chamber arrival

25 June 2021: With the assistance of the facilities team the new bake-out chamber was de-crated and moved into the lab.



Centralizing Computer Monitoring

3 February 2021:  We have been working hard on centralizing computer monitoring of the calibration and test system. As we build this out, the schematic diagram on the large TV will include the states and values of all of the pumps, valves, pressure gauges, and all aspects of the system. In parallel, we have been building out the vacuum system and are getting close to starting up the ion source (far right) and measuring the beam that traverses down the beamline and into the large test chamber (left).



MAE Undergrad Andres Montoya & Postdoc Michael DeLuca

3 February 2021:  The picture inside the cleanroom shows MAE Undergrad Andres Montoya (left) “learning the ropes” of cleanroom work from Postdoc Michael DeLuca (right) on his first day physically in the Lab. Andres is doing his Senior Thesis designing and implementing a beam monitor system that will precisely rotate and slide different devices into and across the ion beam to precisely measure it.



Turbo pump and Ion Source



Ion Source

19 November 2020: Both cryopumps have been running on the main chamber for several weeks and the pressure is <5x10-9 Torr! Since the last update, on the right-hand side, we built out the cross and associated turbopump below it as well as the ion source (just above the crazy looking plumbing) and its turbopump below. Next, we need to get these hooked up to vacuum roughing lines, cooling (for the bigger one), and their control systems and power so we get them running. In contrast to the two cryopumps on the main chamber that sit at ~8 Kelvin and freeze out molecules of air, these turbopumps knock molecules of air downward with magnetically levitated turbines that spin at ~60,000 rpm – four to six times faster than a jet engine!



September 2020. Vacuum chamber and cryopumps

24 September 2020: Two cryopumps have been mounted on the top, but so far only the West pump is running. After three weeks of pumping, the base pressure in the main chamber is already below 2x10-8 Torr. The beamline extends out to the right and we are about to attach the magnetic levitation turbo-pump on the stand at the far right.



Beamline added to main chamber

24 July 2020: The Main chamber is bolted to the floor and beamline is attached. We still need to install pumps, seal the system, and pump it out… lots of work to go but as you can see, we’re pretty happy!



Vacuum chamber arrival at Broadmead


Bolting chamber to the floor

1-2 July 2020: We were finally allowed back on campus in a COVID-19 socially-distanced way and entered our (empty) Lab at 171 Broadmead. Within days we moved our main chamber from the warehouse elsewhere on campus, de-crated it outside the building, and moved it down into the Lab.