NASA Begins New Mission to Study Earthâ€™s Radiation Belt
NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission is set to send two spacecraft into harsh environment of our planet's radiation belt. They are set to launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket Aug. 23. The 20-minute launch window for the twin probes at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41 begins at 4:08 a.m. EDT.
The RSPB spacecraft was designed to fly and operate in the heart of the most hazardous regions of near - Earth space in order gather some crucial data. The data garnered by this spacecraft will be used by the researchers to develop an understanding of the Van Allen radiation belts, two rings of very high energy electrons and protons that can be a threat to both human and robotic explorers.
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"At the end of this month we will turn our attention from planet Mars to planet Earth, both immersed in the atmosphere of our sun," said Barbara Giles, director of NASA's Heliophysics Division. "RBSP will further explore the connection of solar variability and its impacts on Earth's radiation belts."
The Van Allen radiation belts are a torus of energetic charged particles (plasma) around Earth, which is held in place by Earth's magnetic field. It is believed most of the particles that form the belts come from solar wind, and other particles by cosmic rays. Located in the inner region of the Earth's magnetosphere, the belts are split into two distinct ones, with energetic electrons forming the outer belt and a combination of protons and electrons forming the inner one.
The Van Allen radiation belts, named after American space scientist James Van Allen, who discovered them, are part the space weather environment around Earth. The RBSP will eventually help the scientists in understanding how the invisible radiation belts behave and react to the changes in the sun. Space weather includes the dynamic environment of charged particles released from the sun in the solar wind. These particles, mostly electrons and protons, can interfere with satellites in orbit and even power grids on the ground.
"The dramatic dynamics of Earth's radiation belts caused by space weather are highly unpredictable," said Barry Mauk, RBSP project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). "One of the fundamental objectives of the RBSP mission is to use Earth's magnetosphere as a natural laboratory to understand generally how radiation is created and evolves throughout the universe. There are many mysteries that need to be resolved."
According to the scientists the space weather fluctuation can increase over the period of time being a serious threat for the pilots and passengers during polar aircraft flights. The extent of destruction caused can differ from disabling satellites, causing power grid failures to disrupting the Global Positioning System, television and telecommunications signals.
According to NASA this mission will be carried out for two years. And the scientists will use a pair of probes flying in highly elliptical orbits to study the radiation belts over space and time, in order to study how particles within the belts and how their behaviour differ during space weather events.