SSI's Research Branch scientists (both on-site and off-site) participate in a broad array of space science activities, including earth science, space physics, planetary science, and astrophysics. Our research team's expertise continues to expand, and now encompasses investigations of phenomenon on Earth and the geospace environment surrounding our planet. Our scientists study the atmospheres and surfaces of other bodies in our Solar System as well as explore the early stages of the life cycles of stars and nascent planetary systems around other stars. We also study the mysteries of quasars and other types of distant galaxies.

SSI researchers are closely connected to the operations of current astrophysical space facilities such as the SOFIA airborne observatory, and the Kepler, Spitzer, and Hubble Space Telescopes. Closer to home, several SSI researchers focus on Mars research through active participation in the ongoing Mars Exploration Rovers and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions, as well as the Mars Curiosity Rover mission that began with a successful landing in August, 2012. SSI’s off-site and on-site researchers form a network of naturally entrepreneurial scientists who support themselves through a mixture of grants and contracts. Our organization and infrastructure allow for dynamic, collaborative efforts among individuals in fields of research that are typically separated in academic institutions. In this spirit, we continue to look for new creative interdisciplinary opportunities

The Off-Site Research Option

SSI has been a pioneer in remote employment, a mode that has been particularly conducive to our researchers for whom the traditional university or research center is not a viable option. The long-distance nature of most scientific collaborative research lends itself well to the option of remote employment. Access to significant computational resources no longer requires large institutional support. Furthermore, most academic journals and professional proceedings are fully accessible through digital subscriptions, greatly mitigating the need for institutional libraries. Instrument development, which does require significant institutional support, can be done in collaboration with local facilities such as those at Lockheed Martin Corporation and Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation.

Researcher Locations

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Research Centers

SSI currently has four research centers:

  • Center for Space Plasma Physics (CSPP)
    The mission of CSPP is to carry out scientific research that will increase our understanding of fundamental and applied aspects of space plasmas.

  • Center for Extrasolar Planetary Systems (CEPS)
    The mission of CEPS is to carry out scientific research that will increase our understanding of the characteristics of extrasolar planets and the diverse systems in which they are found.

  • Center for Mars Science (CMS)
    The focus of CMS is to provide synergistic science opportunities between existing Mars surface and atmospheric research efforts.

  • and Center for Polarimetric Remote Sensing (CPRS)
    The mission is to expand our capabilities in retrieving information obtained using photopolarimetry.

Center for Space Plasma Physics

CSPP Chair, Dr. Joe Borovsky, Los Alamos, NM Office

Solar Flare

Image credt: NASA
In 2013, CSPP initiated a diverse research effort involving theory, spaceflight-data analysis, and ground-based experiments aimed at increasing our understanding of the plasma physics of the solar wind and Earth's magnetosphere and ionosphere. Research highlights include the development of novel spacecraft-data analysis techniques that examine the nature and characteristics of plasma waves and fluctuations at very small scale sizes, the development and analysis of computer simulations of these types of waves in the solar-wind plasma, advancing the theoretical understanding of magnetic-field-line reconnection in plasmas, and the application of reconnection theories to the interaction of the solar wind with Earth's magnetosphere. Related research highlights for the ionosphere were the development of techniques to exploit ionospheric radar, optical, and magnetic-field measurements to remotely monitor the rate of magnetic-field-line reconnection between the solar wind and Earth's magnetosphere and the optical observation of the airglow from energetic electrons precipitating from the magnetosphere into the upper atmosphere triggered by the turn-on of a powerful military ground-based VLF transmitter. In 2013, the 7 members of CSPP published 28 papers in refereed journals: 13 papers as primary authors and 15 papers as contributing authors

In September 2013, CSPP hosted a week-long, SSI-sponsored, international workshop entitled "10th Cambridge Workshop on Magnetic Reconnection" ( The workshop, organized by Dr. Joachim Birn, was held at the historic Hotel La Fonda in Santa Fe, NM. The Cambridge Workshop series originated in 2004 as a month-long workshop in Cambridge, England. Because of the success of this event, participants decided to continue collaboration through annual weeklong workshops, alternating between Europe and the United States. The focus of the Santa Fe workshop was three-fold: recent progress in reconnection physics, outstanding questions, and future research.

Center for Extrasolar Planetary Systems

CEPS Chair, Dr. Channon Visscher, Sioux Center, IA Office


Extrasolar Planet Discoveries

Image credt: NASA Ames/SETI/J Rowe
The study of extrasolar planets and planetary systems is one of the fastest growing and most exciting fields within astronomy and astrophysics. Recognizing the importance and timelines of the field, SSI inaugurated the Center for Extrasolar Planetary Systems (CEPS) in 2012 as part of the Institute's long-term strategic plan. The mission of this center is to carry out scientific research that will increase our understanding of the characteristics of extrasolar planets and the diverse systems in which they are found

Because the field is by nature multidisciplinary, CEPS brings together astronomers, physicists, atmospheric scientists, and planetary scientists to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and expertise. Current research focus areas for CEPS include studies of the physical properties of planet-hosting stars, the chemistry and physics of exoplanet atmospheres, the influence of the host star on the planet and/or system characteristics, the formation and evolution of planetary systems, and the signatures of planetary formation as reflected in debris disks.

In 2014, the twelve CEPS members published more than 70 refereed scientific articles, including papers on asteroseismology and related analyses of the physical properties of Kepler stars, observational and theoretical characterization of protoplanetary disks, theoretical investigations of chemical processes affecting exoplanet atmospheric composition, and strategic planning for extrasolar planetary system observations with future missions such as the James Webb Telescope and PLATO 2.0. In 2014, CEPS also created a web site (, accessible through SSI's main page, to highlight research being done by center members and to provide an interface with the public and other researchers in the exoplanet field. Throughout 2014, individual CEPS members have interpreted data from space-based and ground-based telescopes, performed theoretical modeling calculations, written journal articles, presented conference talks, and submitted proposals to NASA, NSF, and various other funding agencies, including observatories. Such activities will continue in the coming years as CEPS members seek to further our understanding of the amazing diversity of planetary systems beyond our solar neighborhood.

Center for Mars Science

CMS Chair, Dr. Bill Farrand, Boulder, CO Office

Marathon Valley

'Marathon Valley' overlook, Mars. Image credt: NASA/ASU
The SSI Center for Mars Science continues to serve as a focal point for SSI researchers involved in Mars studies. The center has periodic "Journal Club" telecons where center researchers share aspects of their work. The center is also involved in outreach activities. Center director Dr. Bill Farrand and fellow SSI researcher Dr. Mike Wolff will be participating in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science "Space Day" celebration on May 31 in 2015. Dr. Farrand will also be presenting Mars science research results to the general public by being a member of a space science panel at the Denver Comic Con in late May 2015.

Center for Polarimetric Remote Sensing

CPRS Chair, Dr. Gorden Videen, Silver Spring, MD Office

Reflectance/Polarization Graph

Intensity and linear-polarization response from power-law size distributions of
agglomerated debris particles having different refractive indices.
The study of the polarized nature of light provides critical insights into numerous physical phenomena, including: planetary surfaces, cosmic dust, interstellar magnetic fields, planetary atmospheres, star and planet formation, and active galactic nuclei, to name just a few. The detection and measurement of polarized light are highly specialized areas of astronomical observations and instrumentation development. SSI’s Center for Polarimetric Remote Sensing (CPRS) will bring together scientists who are interested in using polarization as a remote-sensing tool in understanding their individual research areas, capitalizing on a number of senior researchers at SSI with extensive experience in the field. The CPRS will also focus on education and public engagement activities that expose students and the general public to the nature of polarized light, and its utility in science and technology.