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Overview of the Atsa Suborbital Observatory

The Atsa Suborbital Observatory takes advantage of new opportunities for accessing space by private enterprise to address the needs of science and corporations. Using a telescope up to 27 inches in diameter, mounted in a pod on the top of an XCOR Lynx III, Atsa will make observations above the atmosphere of the Earth at wavelengths from the ultraviolet through near-infrared. Atsa is human operated, avoiding costly automation and redundancy. Quick turnaraound times allow for easy equipment replacement and reflight.

The Lynx will take off like an aircraft and return to the same landing strip. Initially, the Atsa 1 Camera will be flown in the prototype Lynx I, traveling to an altitude of 50 kilometers. After experiencing a maximum force of 3-g, the operator will have a few minutes to obtain the planned observations, testing systems that will be used in the observatory. The Atsa Suborbital Observatory, on the Lynx III, will make observations at an altitude exceeding 100 km, reaching outer space. Total flight time is expected to be 30 minutes.

Atsa operator training program is under development. Operators will undergo aerospace training (including academics and simulated full-force flights) of the launch and g-force profile of the Lynx spacecraft inside a centrifuge at the National Aerospace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center in Pennsylvania and enhance telescope operation skills in the immediate transition from high-to zero-g.

The Atsa program uses students at The Citadel and other colleges in South Carolina as designers and builders of the engineering Atsa 1 Camera. Ultimately, it is the goal of the program to include students among the space explorers that will be operating the telescope on suborbital flights. So far, the qualifications needed to join the team have been good grades in STEM classes, discipline, and an interest in space exploration.

Facilities for Atsa development as well as operation simulation and training are planned to be located at PSI corporate headquarters in Tucson, Arizona. These will include a capability for the public and school children to share our experience of flying into space to work and to learn about the different kinds of science enabled by this unique observatory.


An artist's conception of the Atsa Suborbital Observatory in flight on an XCOR Lynx 3.

Atsa inventors Faith Vilas and Luke Sollitt adjust the Atsa 1 Camera in a mockup of the Lynx 1 cockpit at XCOR Aerospace in Mojave, CA.

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