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Pair of Probes to Visit Van Allen Belts

Twin spacecraft will help predict space-weather effects on satellites

4 min read
An artists impression of the Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission in orbit
Photo: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/NASA

UPDATE: 27 August 2012: 2:00 p.m. A problem communicating with a transponder mounted in the Atlas V rocket prevented a launch on Friday. Subsequent bad weather, including the arrival of Tropical Storm Isaac, has pushed the launch date back to no earlier than 30 August.

22 August 2012—In the wee hours of the morning of 24 August, NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) plan to launch a pair of research probes into the most hostile region of space around Earth: the Van Allen belts. The ultimate result should be longer–lasting satellites and safer tours of duty for astronauts.

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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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