CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) is getting readied for launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket. A recent at the Astrotech Space Operations facility located in Titusville, Florida displayed the twin space is scheduled to take the fiery trip to orbit on Aug. 23 from Cape Canaveral Air Forces Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) located in Florida.
Shortly after our tour was completed, the RBSP spacecraft were encapsulated in their protective fairing in preparation for integration with the Atlas V launch vehicle.
The RBSP mission is slated to last two years and will work to gain a better understanding of a feature of the Earth that was discovered on the United States’ first mission to orbit – the Van Allen radiation belts. RBSP will also strive to unlock other mysteries of space weather. Scientists will use the twin RBSP spacecraft to develop a better understanding of the space environment. The Sun is the primary driver of space weather and can often negatively impact systems that modern society rely on – such as power grids, satellites and GPS systems.
Beyond the practical, RBSP will provide researchers with a window into basic radiation and particle acceleration processes.
The ‘Living with a Star’ Program (LWS), of which RBSP is a part, is jointly-managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (which also constructed the twin spacecraft). United Launch Alliance provided the Atlas V 401 launch vehicle and NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be in charge of the launch itself.
The instruments on RBSP will provide measurements required to provide a more comprehensive understanding about the plasma processes that produce very energetic ions and relativistic electrons. RBSP is part of the broader LWS program which was conceived to explore fundamental processes present throughout the solar system. Besides the issues relating to the impact of daily life on Earth, RBSP could provide deeper insight to potential issues to deep-space exploration. With NASA on the cusp of starting missions beyond low-Earth-orbit this mission could prove vital to preventing space weather-related problems with future crewed missions.
The RBSP spacecraft will have nearly identical orbits which will cover all of the Van Allen radiation belt area above our planet. The suite of instruments onboard the spacecraft will allow them to differentiate between spatial and temporal effects as well as compare the effects of various proposed mechanisms for charged particle acceleration and loss.