NASA set to deploy probes to study Earth’s radiation belts and solar influence

Packed inside a U.S. military cargo plane from Maryland, two twin NASA satellites designed to probe and predict changes in Earth’s radiation belts arrived at the Kennedy Space Center runway on Tuesday, at 7:54 a.m. EDT (1154 GMT) Tuesday, according to George Diller, a NASA spokesperson.

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission is part of NASA’s Living With a Star Geospace program to explore fundamental processes that operate throughout the solar system, in particular those that generate hazardous space weather effects near the Earth and phenomena that could affect solar system exploration.

RBSP is being designed to help us understand the sun’s influence on the Earth and near-Earth space by studying the planet’s radiation belts on various scales of space and time.

Artist's concept of the Radiation Belt Storm Probes in orbit. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

The mission’s science objectives are to:

Discover which processes, singly or in combination, accelerate and transport radiation belt electrons and ions and under what conditions.

Understand and quantify the loss of radiation belt electrons and determine the balance between competing acceleration and loss processes.

Understand how the radiation belts change in the context of geomagnetic storms.

The instruments on the two RBSP spacecraft will provide the measurements needed to characterize and quantify the processes that produce relativistic ions and electrons.

They will measure the properties of charged particles that comprise the Earth’s radiation belts and the plasma waves that interact with them, the large-scale electric fields that transport them, and the magnetic field that guides them.

The $530 million mission is scheduled to last at least two years.

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