NASA Launches Radiation Belt Storm Probes

Earlier today, NASA successfully launched a rocket into space carrying a pair of new satellites that will study Earth's radiation belts. The satellites left Earth on a rocket consisting of an Atlas V first stage and a Centaur upper stage. The radiation belts the satellites will study are what protects the earth from solar outbursts.

The NASA mission marks the first time a pair of satellites will work in tandem within the radiation belts of our atmosphere. The radiation belts are typically not where satellites operate because the highly charged particles inside the belts can wreak havoc with normal satellites. To be able to survive their two-year mission, the twin satellites are shielded with thick aluminum.

The satellites were built at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the shielding will allow the satellites to survive the next two years. The satellites are called the Radiation Belt Storm Probes, and the mission will be operated from Maryland. The overall mission cost for the pair of satellites is fingered at $686 million and scientists hope the dual probes will be able to add to our understanding of how the Van Allen radiation belts function and how the sun affects them.

One mission goal is to improve space weather forecasting, which can have a profound effect on the International Space Station and other satellites. According to NASA, the radiation belts are typically, well above the altitude that the ISS and normal satellites orbit at. However, solar storms can cause the radiation belts to expand placing them in the path of the space station and other satellites opening the potential for disaster. The satellites will operate in both the inner and outer radiation belts during their mission at distances ranging from 300 miles above the earth to nearly 20,000 miles above the earth. The probes will be as close as 100 miles apart at times and as far apart as 24,000 miles other times.

[via Fox News]