Seven Decades of Service to the Nation
Founded in 1946 to address the needs of the nation’s space and rocket initiatives, the Physical Science Laboratory (PSL) today is involved in suborbital platforms, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), cyber security, missile instrumentation, and other related aerospace support services to Department of Defense (DoD) and NASA programs.
For 27 years, PSL supported NASA’s unmanned, high altitude (120,000 ft.) scientific balloon operations and managed the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) in Palestine, Texas. After a two-year development phase, PSL successfully participated in JPL’s Low Density Supersonic Decelerator project, as part of a ($250M) project to develop new decelerators to land larger and heavier payloads on Mars, including humans. The tests were carried out in the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, where PSL provided the key personnel to carry out the most challenging balloon flights in the history of CSBF.
PSL supports the DoD and other agencies with UAS testing and evaluation. In partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration, PSL created the UAS Flight Test Center with facilities that include a 15,000-square foot hangar at the Las Cruces International Airport that is used for collecting data on, testing, and evaluation of various classes of UAS. Some areas of focus include airworthiness testing and evaluation for safe integration of UAS for civilian uses operating in the same airspace with manned aircraft. In addition to supporting the DoD, PSL performs testing and evaluation for industry of UAS civil applications. In 2014 it performed aeronautical research with a UAS while surveying a mine in Colorado. The results of this type of research are used to develop procedures for mine sites to enhance safety and mine operations. PSL has accomplished many “firsts” with UAS recently, including electric power infrastructure inspection, inspections of dams as well as other public infrastructure, as well as performing law enforcement, firefighting, and agriculture applications.
PSL’s support of DoD is not limited to UAS research. PSL provides vehicle avionics system development and operational support for programs involving a wide variety of weapon development, target evaluation, and scientific research platforms. In addition, PSL has been involved, for several decades, in research and development of electronic countermeasures, and electronic warfare systems, and also supports development of weapon system performance databases, vulnerability and susceptibility analyses, and post-flight data reports. PSL has a team of software developers and military analysts to develop models and simulations of system of systems for small tactical units in the modern battlefield. This activity directly supports the warfighter.
To address our homeland security needs, PSL develops solutions to protect our nation’s critical infrastructures against global threats, from kinetic to cyberattacks. It provides support in vulnerability/survivability assessments, penetration testing, ethical hacking, and design of software and tools for analysis. PSL continues to provide student employment in the STEM areas providing experiential activities with mentors ranging from engineers to software developers and other technical specialists.