Launch set today to carry CU-Boulder-designed probes into space to study Earth's radiation belts

By: Steve Friday August 24, 2012 0 comments Tags: CU-Boulder, Daniel Baker, NASA

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BOULDER - Launch is set for today for University of Colorado-designed Radiation Belt Storm Probes that will study the invisible, doughnut-shaped regions above the Earth known as the Van Allen radiation belts, CU-Boulder announced.

The belts are filled with high-energy electrons and protons moving at roughly the speed of light. The university received an $18 million grant from NASA to design and build an instrument to capture and measure the high-energy electrons.

The school will also build another instrument suite to measure changes in the electric and magnetic fields in the belts, CU-Boulder said.

The launch is scheduled to take place today from Cape Canaveral, Florida aboard an Atlas V rocket built by Denver-headquartered United Launch Alliance.

The RBSP mission includes twin, octagonal spacecraft shielded in aluminum that will be put into highly elliptical orbits roughly the same as existing communications and weather satellites.

The CU-Boulder instrument and electronics package were designed and built by faculty, professionals and students at the school's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP).

CU-Boulder's Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope (REPT) was developed by a LASP team to measure the highest energy, potentially damaging electron populations in the radiation belts.

Smaller than a shoebox, the instrument was designed to redirect such particles into a silicon detector that measures their individual electrical charges.

"Because the Van Allen radiation belts were the first discovery of the space age, the origin and fate of these relativistic, high-energy electrons is perhaps the longest-standing puzzle in space research," said Daniel Baker, LASP director.

Relativistic electrons are those that travel at roughly the speed of light.

"Since these electrons, which are confined in the Earth's magnetic cocoon, are one of the principal risks for orbiting spacecraft, RSBP represents a major step in understanding and mitigating space weather issues," Baker said.




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