Los Alamos National Labs with logo 2021

Intelligence and Space Research

Create, deliver, support and exploit innovative sensing systems for space-based, airborne and ground-based applications to address critical national security and scientific challenges


  • Division Leader
  • Herbert Funsten
  • Deputy Division Leader
  • Steve Whittemore
  • Email


  • Staff Operations Officer
  • Sandra Lucero
  • Email
  • Executive Office Administrator
  • Valerie Siewert
  • Email
Create, deliver, support and exploit innovative sensing systems

Innovative sensing systems for space-based, airborne and ground-based applications

Leaders in space research for more than 50 years

Los Alamos National Laboratory has designed, built and analyzed data from instrumentation for space missions both near and far for more than 50 years.

Today, the Intelligence and Space Research (ISR) Division continues the Laboratory’s legacy of helping ensure our nation’s security, discovering the processes that govern the space environments, studying the composition of planetary bodies, and capturing the most distant, most powerful cosmic explosions.

Since the launch of the first Vela satellites in 1963, we have designed, built, and operated instruments to monitor international compliance with the Limited Test Ban Treaty. Los Alamos has flown about 400 instruments comprising more than 1,400 sensors on more than 200 total launches.

In the past year, Los Alamos-led instrument teams published studies in both Science and Nature journals on

  • early supernova evolution
  • energization of the radiation belts
  • weathering of rocks on Mars
  • thunderstorm disruption of the ionosphere
  • interaction of the Sun and the interstellar medium
  • and much more.
  • Extreme engineering: electrical, mechanical, computer, software, and system engineering for development and deployment of sensors within tightly constrained mass, power and volume resources that out-perform requirements, operate autonomously in a harsh radiation environment, must survive launch and landing, and must operate through known and unknown hazards
  • Data to information in space: onboard high performance computing and reconfigurable computing
  • Space weather and space environment: plasma mass spectrometry, neutral atom imaging, high energy ion and electron detection, heliospheric and magnetospheric science
  • Radio sciences: electromagnetic detection (kHz to THz), lightning physics, ionospheric physics, atmospheric-ionospheric coupling
  • Time-domain astrophysics: impulsive and transient events across the electromagnetic spectrum (from optical to gamma ray)
  • Nuclear detection: neutrons, x-rays, and gamma rays, planetary physics
  • Hyperspectral imaging: signal transport through the atmosphere, laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, planetary geophysics
  • Modeling and simulation for understanding and prediction: plasmas, space environment, ionosphere, atmospheric-ionospheric coupling, supernova evolution

Los Alamos continues to rely on a highly innovative spiral of science, technology, and engineering.

Collaborative teams of scientists and engineers develop new methods and techniques for national security payloads, as well as National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) missions such as

  • Van Allen Probes, Mars Science Laboratory
  • Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), Swift
  • Two Wide-angle Imaging Neutral-atom Spectrometers (TWINS)
  • Cassini
  • Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE)
  • Mars Odyssey
  • Deep Space 1
  • Ulysses
  • Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE)
  • Lunar Prospector