Military Experiments Target the Van Allen Belts

Satellite and Alaskan array will test whether RF injections into the ionosphere could halt geomagnetic storms.

3 min read

24 October 2007--Ever since the Van Allen radiation belts were discovered, the U.S. armed forces have been interested in understanding--and maybe even controlling--how the belts influence wireless communication. For example, the U.S. Air Force, wanting to keep in touch with airborne fighter pilots at all times, would like to understand exactly how geomagnetic storms in the atmosphere will cause disruptions. Today, the armed forces are sponsoring two big experiments to gain more knowledge about the Earth's ionosphere.

The first of them is the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program(HAARP), located in Gakona, Alaska, about 300 kilometers from Fairbanks.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.


For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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