NASA has conducted one of the most eloquent no-brainers in history. The space agency has renamed its Radiation Storm Belt Probe (RBSP) spacecraft, which is comprised of two satellites, they are now known as the Van Allen Probes. They were renamed in honor of James Van Allen, the man who discovered the radiation belts that the two craft are exploring.
The Van Allen Probes mission was launched to study the space weather environment in general and Earth’s radiation belts in particular.
James Van Allen was the head of the physics department at the University of Iowa who discovered the radiation belts that encircle Earth in 1958. These belts were discovered by the very first satellite that the United States ever launched – Explorer 1.
The mission’s new moniker was announced Friday during a ceremony held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) located in Laurel, Md.
“James Van Allen was a true pioneer in astrophysics,” said NASA’s associate administrator for the space agency’s Science Mission Directorate, John Grunsfeld. “His ground breaking research paved the way for current and future space exploration. These spacecraft now not only honor his iconic name but his mark on science.”
Grunsfeld knows a thing or two about space exploration having flown into space five times aboard the space shuttle. As for Van Allen, he was no slouch in terms of expanding mankind’s understanding of outer space. Van Allen was the principal investigator on no less than 24 missions that explored not just Earth, but other planets within the solar system as well.
The Van Allen Probes were launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) in Florida. The two craft were launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket on Aug. 30, 2012 and were the first spacecraft dispatched specifically to investigate the two belts that encircle our world.
Humanity is becoming increasingly dependent on technology that is susceptible to the highly-charged particles that exist as what is known as “space weather.” These phenomena can negatively impact global positioning system (GPS) satellites, various forms of telecommunications and can even threaten the lives of astronauts in space. As NASA is currently working to send astronauts beyond Earth orbit for the first time in four decades, developing a better understanding of how space weather works is vital. The Van Allen Probes could provide critical data in this regard.
The Van Allen Probes have been powered up and have turned their attention toward their target, the highly-charged particles and the forces that move and transport them. The five instruments onboard the satellites are sifting through the fields and waves that are part its new home.
The mission is slated to last for just two years, with the probes covering the entirety of both belts. The rationale behind sending two spacecraft is that it should allow scientists to not just understand the conditions within the radiation belts and what impacts them, but possibly to predict space weather as well. The Van Allen Probes is the second mission launched under NASA’s Living With a Star program (the first being the Solar Dynamics Observatory or SDO).
“After only two months in orbit, the Van Allen Probes have made significant contributions to our understanding of the radiation belts,” says APL Director Ralph Semmel. “The science and data from these amazing twin spacecraft will allow for more effective and safe space technologies in the decades to come. APL is proud to have built and to operate this new resource for NASA and our nation, and we are proud to have the mission named for one of APL’s original staff.”
For more information on NASA’s Van Allen Probes mission, click here: Van Allen Probes