Press Release

NASA to Study the Radiation Belts: Hopkins Applied Physics Lab Developing Twin Spacecraft

Thu, 01/08/2009 - 09:32

Following a successful confirmation review, NASA has given The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) the go-ahead to continue development of the Radiation Belt Storm Probes, or RBSP mission. APL will build and operate the twin probes that will study the radiation belts surrounding Earth, with a primary mission of two years.

“This is a very important milestone in the mission life cycle,” says Rick Fitzgerald, RBSP project manager at APL. “It validates all the terrific work performed by the RBSP team for the last three years. We are looking forward to a successful detailed design phase.”

Last month, a NASA-appointed panel reviewed and approved the detailed plans, instrument suite, budget and risk factor analysis for the two spacecraft. The next mission development milestone, the critical design review, is scheduled for later this year. After a successful critical design review, the project team can begin to assemble the spacecraft and instruments.

The probes will measure the particles, waves, and magnetic and electric fields that fill near-Earth space to improve our understanding of how the sun’s changing energy flow affects them. These observations will help researchers understand not only how charged particles are energized at Earth, but also the processes that create particle radiation throughout the universe in stars, interplanetary space and distant nebulae.

The data collected by the probes also will help researchers develop various models for the radiation belts that will be used by engineers to design radiation-hardened spacecraft. Forecasters also will use the information to predict space weather phenomena and alert astronauts and spacecraft operators to potential hazards.

“We are excited to be forging ahead with this mission to unlock the mysteries of Earth’s radiation belts,” says Barry Mauk, RBSP project scientist at APL. “In addition to the great science, the results from RBSP will improve our ability to predict dangerous periods for our space assets.”

The instruments will be provided by Boston University, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota, New Jersey Institute of Technology and the National Reconnaissance Office.

The RBSP mission is part of NASA’s Living With a Star Program, guided by the Heliophysics Division of the NASA Headquarters Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The program explores fundamental processes that operate throughout the solar system, in particular those that generate hazardous space weather effects near Earth and phenomena that could affect solar system exploration. The program is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.