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NASA launches twin probes to study radiation belt

08-31-2012 01:15 BJT

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 (Xinhua) -- U.S. space agency NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) launched into the predawn skies Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The two satellites, each weighing just less than 1,500 pounds, are the first dual-spacecraft mission created to investigate this hazardous regions of near-Earth space, known as the radiation belts.

These two belts, named for their discoverer, James Van Allen, encircle the planet and are filled with highly charged particles. The belts are affected by solar storms and coronal mass ejections and sometimes swell dramatically. When this occurs, they can pose dangers to communications, GPS satellites and human spaceflight.

"We have never before sent such comprehensive and high-quality instruments to study high radiation regions of space," said Barry Mauk, RBSP project scientist at Johns Hopkins University. "RBSP was crafted to help us learn more about, and ultimately predict, the response of the radiation belts to solar inputs."

The hardy RBSP satellites will spend the next two years looping through every part of both Van Allen belts. By having two spacecraft in different regions of the belts at the same time, scientists finally will be able to gather data from within the belts themselves, learning how they change over space and time.

Designers fortified RBSP with special protective plating and rugged electronics to operate and survive within this punishing region of space, which other spacecraft avoid. In addition, a space weather broadcaster will transmit selected data from those instruments around the clock, giving researchers a check on current conditions near Earth.

 

Editor:Bai Yang |Source: Xinhua

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