NASA reports that their Radiation Belt Storm Probes are now flying in Earth orbit. The twin satellite probes took off this morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, south-southeast of NASA's Kennedy Space Center on adjacent Merritt Island.
For the next two years, the Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) will carry out the most in-depth study yet of Earth's ever-changing radiation belts. The RBSP are specifically designed to explore Earth‘s treacherous radiation belts which protect the planet from solar outbursts.
NASA's latest report states:
"Scientists will learn in unprecedented detail how the radiation belts are populated with charged particles, what causes them to change and how these processes affect the upper reaches of the atmosphere around Earth," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. "The information collected from these probes will benefit the public by allowing us to better protect our satellites and understand how space weather affects communications and technology on Earth."
The probes, weighing under 1,500 pounds, are NASA's first dual-spacecraft made to investigate the most hazardous regions of the radiation belts. Named after James Van Allen, the belts are filled with highly-charged particles that encircle Earth. Swelling dramatically, they are highly affected by solar storms and coronal mass ejections.
When such solar events happen, the radiation belts begin to affect Earth's communications, GPS satellites and human spaceflight. According to NASA, "We have never before sent such comprehensive and high-quality instruments to study high radiation regions of space," said Barry Mauk, RBSP project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. "RBSP was crafted to help us learn more about, and ultimately predict, the response of the radiation belts to solar inputs."
NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), the first twin-spacecraft mission designed to explore our planet's radiation belts, launched into the predawn skies at 4:05 a.m. EDT Thursday, August 30, 2012, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Nicky Fox, RBSP deputy project scientist from APL, said, "Today, 11 years of hard work was realized by the science team as a number of us stood together watching the rocket lift off the pad. [The spacecraft] are now at home in the Van Allen belts where they belong, and we can finally breathe out now that solar panels are out on both of them."