NASA Renames RBSP Mission to Van Allen Probes

NASA has renamed the recently launched Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission as the Van Allen Probes in honor of the late Dr. James Van Allen. Van Allen was the head of the physics department at the University of Iowa who discovered the radiation belts encircling Earth in 1958. This was announced Friday during a ceremony at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. at a ceremony that also highlighted the spacecraft’s commissioning activities.

“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.”

Van Allen helped develop the initial plans for an International Geophysical Year that took place in 1957. He was the principal investigator for the first successful American satellite, Explorer I, and continuing with Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, went on to be principal investigator on 24 Earth Satellite and planetary missions.

The Van Allen probes were launched on Aug. 30, 2012, and comprise the first dual-spacecraft mission specifically created to investigate the Van Allen belts that surround Earth. These two belts, encircle the planet and are filled with highly charged particles. The belts can sometimes swell dramatically, due to solar storms and coronal mass ejections. When this happens, they can disrupt communications, GPS satellites and pose a danger to human spaceflight activities.

For more information about NASA’s Van Allen Probes mission, visit:

Radiation Belt Storm Probe Records Chorus In Van Allen Belts

RBSPThe Radiation Belt Storm Probes that were launched on August 30, 2012, are nearing the completion of their 60-day commissioning period before beginning their prime mission. Nonetheless, interesting and useful data are being returned by the probes.

One of the instruments on these probes is the Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (EMFISIS). This instrument is being managed by the University of Iowa Radio and Plasma Wave Group with Craig Kletzing being the principal investigator. The University of Iowa has a long history of involvement with the study of the magnetosphere, and was the home to Dr. James Van Allen who discovered the Van Allen Belts that RBSP is now probing.

EMFISIS monitors magnetic fields and plasma waves with three solenoids, oriented as if they were the 90-degree angles at the corner of a cube. Experiments in the past have only been able to monitor such waves in a single direction, but EMFISIS will measure E and H field components in all three directions as it also incorporates the electric field information gathered by the booms on the Electric Field and Wave Suite (EFW) instrument.

In essence, it’s a sophisticated Natural Radio receiver located within the radiation belts, far away from power-line interference and right near the source of the signals. These recordings are exceptionally clear for these reasons, plus the fact that the recordings are being made at 16-bit resolution, which was never done before within the radiation belts. Listen to the clarity of these first recordings! Here is a recording of chorus:

Chorus as recorded by Radiation Belt Storm Probe

This is a whistler recorded from within the Van Allen Belts:

RBSP Recording of a Whistler

Both of these recordings are courtesy of NASA and the University of Iowa Radio and Plasma Wave Group. For more space sounds, you might want to check out Prof. Don Gurnett’s site at the University of Iowa:

NASA’s RBSP was designed to help us understand the sun’s influence on Earth and near-Earth space by studying the Earth’s radiation belts on various scales of space and time.

The two RBSP spacecraft have nearly identical eccentric orbits and identical instrumentation. The orbits cover the entire radiation belt region and the two spacecraft lap each other several times over the course of the mission. With a spaced pair of satellites, RBSP can discriminate between spatial and temporal effects, and compare the effects of various proposed mechanisms for charged particle acceleration and loss.

Here are links to the mission pages for the RBSP: