Communications & Space Sciences Laboratory
An interdisciplinary and intercollege component to PSUs Department of Electrical Engineering

The Communications and Space Sciences Laboratory (CSSL), founded in 1949, is composed of a group of electrical engineers, physicists, and meteorologists who work together to study the atmosphere, ionosphere, and various electromagnetic processes. Its research and instruction have broadened over the years, and faculty now explore the following areas:

  • computational electromagnetics, which involves using computers to predict the interactions of electromagnetic fields and waves with materials;
  • ionospheric electromagnetics, used for better understanding of very low frequency/extremely low frequency wave propagation and generation by ionospheric currents;
  • microwave electronics, which involves developing both active and passive monolithic microwave integrated circuits, and collaborating with industry for computer modeling and experimental verification of new designs;
  • radar remote sensing, to probe storms in order to estimate rainfall rates, detect hail, and determine regions of ice- and water-phase hydrometeors;
  • incoherent scatter radar techniques to determine electron concentration, winds, and tides within the E and F regions of the ionosphere;
  • microwave remote sensing to measure the concentration of water vapor in the middle atmosphere;
  • lidar remote sensing, in which ground-based, high-power lasers are used for remote sensing of lower- and middle-atmospheric properties;
  • optical communications in atmospheric paths between satellites and the ground;
  • rocket measurements of the middle atmosphere to understand, for example, the transfer of energy from lightning discharges to the global electrical circuit.

In addition to this research, CSSL faculty have developed courses in areas ranging from analog electronics and microwave remote sensing to upper-atmospheric physics and chemistry. The center traditionally has provided research opportunities for graduate students not only from electrical and computer engineering, but also from physics, meteorology, mathematics, aeronautics, and engineering science and mechanics. Faculty from these disciplines also join the laboratory's research efforts. International scientists frequently visit CSSL to work with faculty and students.


Faculty and students in CSSL use various research instruments and computational techniques in studying electromagnetic propagation and the atmosphere. Several lidar systems, now being completed, will probe the 20-to-90 km altitude region; one of these has been carried by ship from 70 degrees N to 70 degrees S to perform the first latitudinal survey of its kind. Faculty also construct flight hardware instrumentation for rocket-borne measurements of electrical conductivity in the stratosphere and mesosphere; these payloads have been launched at such locations as Alaska, northern Norway and Sweden, Peru, and East Africa. Faculty routinely perform remote sensing measurements of water vapor in the mesosphere using a MASER-based microwave radiometer. Soon, a more portable cooled-FET-based radiometer will be transported from north of the Arctic Circle to Antarctica as part of NASA's Network for the Detection of Stratospheric Change and the UARS satellite Correlative Measurements Program. In addition, some of the hardware for the Millimeter Atmospheric Sounder, scheduled to fly on a future space shuttle mission, was constructed at Penn State.

For other studies, faculty use national observatories: the Incoherent Scatter Radar and various lidars at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, and the HIPAS ionosphere heating facility in Fairbanks, Alaska. Faculty and graduate students conduct data analysis and computation studies on a wide variety of machines, ranging from various desktop systems to a dedicated CSSL Microvax and IRIS workstation to mainframes.

Arecibo images courtesy of the NAIC - Arecibo Observatory, a facility of the NSF