NASA prepares to explore Van Allen Radiation Belts

Countdown preparations for NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) kick off tonight at 8:52 p.m. EDT.

Spacecraft engineers at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida are slated to configure RBSP for launch at approximately 10 p.m. The terminal countdown operation begins at 12:57 a.m., at which time the launch pad will be cleared of personnel in preparation for fueling the Atlas V rocket – with the loading of cryogenic propellants scheduled for 1:42 a.m and liftoff on track for 4:07 a.m.

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) are designed to help scientists improve their understanding of the Sun’s influence on Earth and Near-Earth space by studying the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts on various scales of space and time.

The instruments on NASA’s Living With a Star Program’s (LWS) Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission will provide the measurements needed to characterize and quantify the plasma processes that produce very energetic ions and relativistic electrons.

The RBSP mission is part of the broader LWS program whose missions were conceived to explore fundamental processes that operate throughout the solar system, in particular, those that generate hazardous space weather effects in the vicinity of Earth and phenomena that could impact solar system exploration.

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

The two RBSP spacecraft will have nearly identical eccentric orbits. The orbits cover the entire radiation belt region and the two spacecraft lap each other several times over the course of the mission. The RBSP in situ measurements discriminate between spatial and temporal effects, and compare the effects of various proposed mechanisms for charged particle acceleration and loss.