May 7, 2012

Radiation Belt Storm Probes arrive at Kennedy Space Center

NASA’s twin Radiation Belt Storm Probes safely arrived on May 1 at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., where they are scheduled for an August launch to begin their mission to study the extremes of space weather.

Just after 10:30 p.m. on April 30, the spacecraft had departed Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory, where they were built, packed in custom-made shipping containers. When they arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, an Air Force C-17 cargo plane was waiting to transport them to Kennedy.

Over the next several weeks, engineers and scientists from APL will prepare the spacecraft for launch. Other team members will continue to test their key operating systems remotely from the RBSP Mission Operations Center at APL.

RBSP will begin its exploration of Earth’s Van Allen Radiation Belts with a predawn launch scheduled for Aug. 23 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket.

Each spacecraft weighs about 1,455 pounds and carries an identical set of five instrument suites that will allow scientists to unlock the mysteries of the radiation belts that surround our planet. The two spacecraft will fly in nearly identical, eccentric orbits that cover the entire radiation belt region, lapping each other several times over the course of the two-year mission. This will give researchers an unparalleled view into the mechanics and processes that change the size and intensity of the radiation belts over time. RBSP will explore space weather—changes in Earth’s space environment caused by changes in the sun’s energy flow—and especially its extreme conditions, which can disable satellites, cause power grid failures and disrupt GPS services.

The mission is part of NASA’s Living With a Star program, which is managed by Goddard Space Flight Center. APL built the spacecraft and will manage the mission for NASA.