The Tucson, Ariz.-based Planetary Science Institute (PSI) said July 11 that it has signed a framework agreement with Mojave, Calif.-based XCOR Aerospace to fly a human-operated telescope aboard XCOR’s Lynx suborbital spacecraft.

The telescope suite, dubbed the Atsa Suborbital Observatory, was invented by PSI Senior Scientist Faith Villas and Luke Sollitt, a PSI affiliate scientist and professor at the Citadel in Charleston, S.C.

Mark Sykes, the Planetary Science Institute’s director and chief executive officer, said the group plans to continue Atsa’s development “through a combination of grants and corporate sponsorships.

“Once operational, we expect Atsa (including flights) will be self-sustaining,” Sykes told Space News July 12.

Sollitt, the Atsa deputy project scientist, said in an email that the Atsa Armrest Camera is currently being developed and built at the Citadel.

“We hope to use the lessons learned from the Armrest Camera to inform the design of the Mark 2 Atsa Observatory,” Sollitt wrote. “Currently we are planning a telescope of no less than 356 [millimeters] in diameter. The Armrest Camera (which is our Mark 1 Atsa Observatory) is meant strictly as an engineering pathfinder testbed, and will fly with the Mark 1 Lynx. For both versions of the observatory, we are using commercial off-the-shelf equipment wherever possible.”

Sollitt said the armrest camera should begin flying in early 2013. “Our Mark 2 Observatory will be ready to fly at about the same time Lynx Mark 2 is,” he wrote.



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