HomeNews & MediaPress ReleasesPress Release 
January 23, 2003
For Immediate Release

Media Contact
Kristi Marren
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
Laurel, MD 20723
Phone: 240-228-6268 or 443-778-6268

APL to Implement NASA Geospace Missions

Two Missions Slated to Study Sun's Effects on Earth


NASA Headquarters announced today that APL will formulate, implement and operate multiple spacecraft for the agency's Geospace missions, which will study the sun's effects on Earth's magnetic field and upper atmosphere. The missions are part of NASA's Living With a Star (LWS) program and the first to be assigned to APL under a 12-year contract awarded to the Laboratory in July 2001.

"The Geospace missions represent a major element of our continuing Living With a Star partnership with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center," says Dr. Stamatios Krimigis, head of APL's Space Department. "It's an honor to have NASA once again recognize our expertise in this area. APL's end-to-end science and engineering capabilities play a key role in helping us better understand the connection between the sun and Earth."

Enhancing Space Weather Forecasts

The Geospace missions focus on two areas - Earth's magnetic field and upper atmosphere - protecting us from intense and damaging solar particles that constantly bombard our planet. They will help scientists to better understand and predict space weather. Just as thunderstorms on Earth can affect power systems, solar storms can interfere with the operation of important commercial and military communications and navigation technologies, such as the Global Positioning System, and pose hazards to astronauts on the International Space Station.

The Ionospheric/Thermospheric Mapper is a 3-year mission comprising two identically instrumented spacecraft, or "storm probes," that will measure the effects of geomagnetic storms on the ionosphere/thermosphere - a region in the atmosphere located approximately 53-620 miles above the surface. Both spacecraft are expected to launch in 2008, and will operate in a low altitude, high inclination orbit around Earth.

The Radiation Belt Mapper is a 2-year mission slated to study the effect of solar activity on radiation belts, which are doughnut-shaped belts of particles trapped by Earth's magnetic field that extend more than 20,000 miles around our planet. Two spacecraft, in nearly identical, low-inclination, highly elliptical orbits, will make simultaneous multipoint measurements of particle distributions and of electric and magnetic fields within these belts. Both spacecraft are expected to launch in 2010.

The total costs for both missions combined are estimated at $400 million, which include launch vehicles, data analysis and project operations.

To support a 2008 launch date, an Announcement of Opportunity for the Ionospheric/Thermospheric mission's science payload is expected to be released by NASA Headquarters this fall.

The Geospace investigations are the second in a series of missions within NASA's Living With a Star program, which focuses on better understanding the sun's effects on life and society. The Living With a Star Program Office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., has overall program responsibility for both Geospace missions, as well as the first LWS mission - the Solar Dynamics Observatory - slated for launch in 2007.

For more information on Living With a Star and the Geospace missions, visit http://lws.gsfc.nasa.gov. For more information about APL's contract encompassing these missions, visit http://www.jhuapl.edu/newscenter/pressreleases/2001/010709.asp.


The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.