The Center's research involves scientific instrumentation including incoherent scatter radar, satellite, optical and radio wave instruments. The Center conducts basic physics research in the ionosphere/magnetosphere, middle atmosphere/lower thermosphere, and stratosphere/troposphere.
For the National Science Foundation, the Center leads operations of four major research facilities, from which data are used by hundreds of scientists annually:
- Sondrestrom Research Facility: In cooperation with Denmark's Meteorological Institute, the Center has operated, managed, and conducted research at the Sondrestrom sitein Greenland since 1983.
- Poker Flat Incoherent Scatter Radar: PFISR is one of the Advanced Modular Incoherent Scatter Radar (AMISR) designs. AMISR is a modular, mobile radar facility used to study the upper atmosphere and observe space weather events. AMISR is deployed at Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska.
- Resolute Incoherent Scatter Radar: RISR is also an AMISR design and is located in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, Canada. It is used for basic research in solar wind and observations of polar cap phenomena at this facility in Canada, and is currently undergoing an upgrade to produce a second AMISR for the University of Calgary.
- Arecibo Observatory: In 2011, SRI was selected to operate and maintain this facility in Puerto Rico, which contains the world's largest, most sensitive single-dish radio telescope. The observatory is preeminent for its research in astronomy, planetary studies, and space and atmospheric sciences.
- With the support of NSF and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Center also occasionally coordinates the operation of facilities at Altair, Marshall Islands for basic ionospheric research.