CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Two NASA satellites soared into earth orbit on Thursday to begin a harsh mission to study the planet’s protective radiation belts.
The two identical Radiation Belt Storm Probes will spend several years traveling though the Van Allen Radiation Belts to collect new information on their makeup, and study the high energy particles which moves inside the belts even jumping into the atmosphere.
“We live in the atmosphere of the Sun so when the Sun sneezes the earth catches a cold,” states Nicky Fox, project scientist on the RBSP mission at John Hopkins University. “Whatever is happening on the Sun the earth will feel an effect and will respond to that change in space weather.”
Lift-off of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 401 rocket with NASA’s twin satellites occurred on time at 4:05 a.m. EDT, on August 30 from America’s Space Coast.
Minutes later, the Atlas’ spent core booster separated away as the upper stage continued the journey pushing the two satellites higher out over the Atlantic waters.
A metro Atlanta couple on vacation in nearby Cocoa Beach were excited to watch their first space launch.
“Incredible! The beach went from darkness to near daylight in seconds,” Bill Diller of Acworth exclaimed with a grin. “Will be coming back again for another launch for sure.”
After a successful launch, the first spacecraft, RBSP-A, separated from the rocket’s upper stage at 5:23 a.m., followed by RBSP-B eight minutes later.
The two spacecraft will follow one behind the other over the next two years soaring through an orbit ranging from 375 miles up to 19,900 miles above earth.
This region is where the inner and outer radiation belts wrap around our planet protecting us from harmful solar radiation from the Sun.
Each probe measures six feet across and weighs nearly 1500 pounds.
(Charles Atkeison reports on science & technology. Follow his aerospace updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)