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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 30, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 36
APL to Build, Operate NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes

By Michael Buckley
Applied Physics Laboratory

The Applied Physics Laboratory will develop and operate twin NASA spacecraft to study how the sun interacts with Earth's radiation belts.

Part of NASA's Living With a Star program, the Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission will determine how varying inputs of solar energy form or change populations of relativistic electrons and ions in the Earth's radiation belts — the doughnut-shaped bands of charged particles trapped by Earth's magnetic field that extend some 20,000 miles around the planet. After launch, scheduled for 2012, the spacecraft will measure the distributions of charged particles as well as the electric and magnetic fields that energize, transport or remove the particles within these belts.

Detailed design of the probes will begin this summer, after NASA selects the spacecraft's science instruments. The mission's science results will provide the understanding needed to predict potentially hazardous space weather effects, in much the same way weather is forecast on Earth. Furthermore, observations from the spacecraft will be used to improve the characterization of planetary space environments. Increased knowledge of the space environment and effects of space weather will permit better design and operations of new technology on Earth and in space.

"For the first time, several spacecraft will simultaneously watch activity on the sun and the reaction to that activity within Earth's radiation belts," said Ken Potocki, APL's Living With a Star program manager. "These probes will have to work in an incredibly difficult radiation environment where charging and discharging will occur, a lot like flying into an electrical storm."

Radiation Belt Storm Probes is the first project assigned to APL under a 12-year contract, awarded in December 2000, to design, develop and operate missions in the Living With a Star and Solar Terrestrial Probes programs.

For more information on the Living With a Star program, go to


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