NASA Radiation Belt Mission Renamed To Honor Van Allen
April Flowers for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
NASA announced the renaming of a recently launched mission to study the radiation belts to the Van Allen Probes in honor of the late James Van Allen, head of the physics department at the University of Iowa. Van Allen discovered the radiation belts encircling Earth in 1958.
NASA announced the new name, previously the Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), at a ceremony at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).
“James Van Allen was a true pioneer in astrophysics,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “His ground breaking research paved the way for current and future space exploration. These spacecraft now not only honor his iconic name but his mark on science.”
Principal investigator for scientific investigations on 24 Earth satellites and planetary missions, beginning with the first successful American satellite, Explorer I, and continuing with Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, Van Allen had a long and distinguished career. Van Allen worked at APL during and after WWII. He is also credited with discovery of a new moon of Saturn in 1979 and the radiation belts around Saturn.
The Van Allen Probes were launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on August 30. They are the second mission in NASA’s Living with a Star program to explore aspects of the connected sun-Earth system. They comprise the first dual-spacecraft mission specifically created to investigate the radiation belts surrounding the Earth. Filled with highly charged particles, the two belts encircle the planet and are affected by solar storms and coronal mass ejections. Sometimes they swell dramatically and, when this occurs, they can pose dangers to communications, GPS satellites and human spaceflight activities.
“After only two months in orbit, the Van Allen Probes have made significant contributions to our understanding of the radiation belts,” says APL Director Ralph Semmel in a statement. “The science and data from these amazing twin spacecraft will allow for more effective and safe space technologies in the decades to come. APL is proud to have built and to operate this new resource for NASA and our nation, and we are proud to have the mission named for one of APL’s original staff.”
All flight systems and science instruments on the probes are powered up and operational. The five instrument groups designed and operated by teams at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota; University of New Hampshire; and the National Reconnaissance Office, are gathering data about the particles that swirl through the belts along with the fields and waves that transport them.
The initial mission of the probes is two years in length, sending them looping through every part of both Van Allen belts. The purpose of having two spacecraft in different regions of the belts simultaneously is to gather data from within the belts themselves, learning how they change over space and time. The Van Allen Probes will also transmit a space weather broadcast around the clock, giving researchers a check on current conditions near the Earth.