NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), the first twin-spacecraft mission designed to explore our planet's radiation belts, launched into the predawn skies at 4:05a.m. EDT Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The two satellites, each weighing just less than 1,500 pounds, comprise the first dual-spacecraft mission specifically 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. The hardy RBSP satellites will spend the next 2 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 that other spacecraft avoid. In addition, a space weather broadcast will transmit selected data from those instruments around the clock, giving researchers a check on current conditions near Earth.
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