CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — This morning at 8:35 a.m. EDT, United Launch Alliance rolled out the Atlas V 401 rocket from the Vertical Integration Facility to the adjacent Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The payload for this mission is the Radiation Belt Storm Probes or RBSP. This mission features a pair of satellites that will study space weather and the Van Allen Radiation Belts.
RBSP consists of twin satellites that will have virtually identical eccentric orbits that will allow them to cover the entire radiation belt. During the mission’s lifespan the duo will “lap” each other several times. RBSP’s sophisticated suite of scientific instruments will allow them to differentiate between temporal and spatial effects and will allow them to determine some of the mechanics behind these effects.
Space weather adversely impacts many modern systems including power grids, GPS and other satellite-derived technologies. RBSP will help to quantify the plasma processes that create the highly-charged particles which produces space weather.
RBSP is part of the space agency’s Living With a Star Program. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory was launched in 2010 as part of this initiative. Both missions serve to deepen the understanding of the dynamics behind space weather. In terms of human space flight, NASA is seeking to better understand the forces behind these phenomena so as to find ways to better protect astronauts on long-duration space missions.
If all goes according to plan, RBSP will launch on Friday Aug. 24 at 4:07 a.m. EDT. The Atlas V launch vehicle is fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen and has a launch window lasting approximately 20 minutes.
Current weather conditions provide a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions for launch. Florida is on alert as tropical storm Isaac gains strength in the Atlantic Ocean and is making its way toward the Sunshine State.