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NASA Launches Twin Radiation Belt Storm Probes

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the realized-vision dept.

NASA 30

eldavojohn writes "A press release announced the launch of NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission at 4:05 a.m. EDT Thursday morning. The probes are listed as healthy and ready to begin their 60-day commissioning period before beginning their prime mission to study Earth's electric atmosphere. Space.com has images of the launch. The spacecraft will study the Van Allen Radiation Belts and allow us better insight on the Sun's influence on the Earth as well as giving us a more accurate picture of Earth's magnetosphere. The spacecraft's sensitive parts are protected by 0.33 inches (8.5 millimeters) of aluminum and they will follow each other across a highly elliptical orbit almost exactly on the Earth's equatorial plane coming as close as 375 miles (603 km) and reaching as far as 20,000 miles (32187 km) from the surface of Earth to dynamically explore the radiation belts."

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Why the radiation belts exist (4, Funny)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#41177967)

To keep the Earth's radiation pants from falling down.

Re:Why the radiation belts exist (1)

trout007 (975317) | about 2 years ago | (#41183507)

This planet is getting so fat we are going to need radiation suspenders.

Re:Why the radiation belts exist (1)

slick7 (1703596) | about 2 years ago | (#41184295)

Them damn Terrerists.

Awesome Launch (5, Interesting)

clam666 (1178429) | about 2 years ago | (#41178097)

I had the good luck to watch the launch from the roof of the VAB, and the launch was great. Although the moisture ladden air made long exposure photography not come out as crisp, it did make for a much better light show as the spaceship blasted off.

Many people are bummed out from the lack of "manned" space travel with NASA, but on the floor of the VAB, across from the shuttle Endeavour, were the nose cone and Launch Escape System - LES, for the Orion program.

Good luck to the RBSP and hope the data it sends back will give us more knowledge going forward to have humans travel safely through the storm belts.

Re:Awesome Launch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41179825)

How did you get onto the roof of the Van Allen Belt!?

Re:Awesome Launch (4, Informative)

clam666 (1178429) | about 2 years ago | (#41180303)

I was part of the NASA Social program where they're allowing the social networking community to blog and tweet along with "actual journalists".

What this did is allow a small group of social networking types to go into the LCC (Launch Control Center), to the launch pad, tour the VAB (and then watch the launch from the roof, and it's a great view from the largest single story building in the world), have a Q&A with the International Space Station via live downlink, and other fun things. They also catered lunch. It was a three day event although with the two scrubbed launches previously it extended quite a few days.

I mention "actual journalists" above in sarcastic quotes, because to be honest, they were completely different from the SocialMedia citizen type journalists. It was interesting to note that our group was not getting paid; in fact had to finance our own trip, hotels, airfare, etc. We hung out together before and after the daily grind, had breakfasts together after scrubbed launches at 0430 at IHOP and nerded out all over the place. Everyone was giddy and having fun and taking pictures of every nut and bolt, sign, elevator, mosquitos, grabbing all the scientific material, paying attention to all the NASA administrators, program managers, scientists, etc. Everyone was there because they loved NASA and science and were nerds about it.

The journalist types, were in many cases serious SOBs. They were either complaining about their per diem, trying to scam their employers out of new and expensive equipment, bitching about scrubbed launches, complaining to our media minders about having to follow rules, etc. The Fourth Estate was, frankly, embarrassing to be around. They were like petulant children. I'd love to list all the observations of these people but it was clear to me that this was a paycheck to them, or maybe they were too cool for school to say they liked this stuff. It was a sad observation of the "media" (though certainly not my first viewing of this behavior). I suspect it has to do with organizations fearing the media will write bad things about them or something, so they have to put up with these jackasses. In a strange situation the only media people that seemed positive were the FOX news guys, but I more suspect that it was because they were a local affiliate. The worst media was ironically the team from a particular science periodical. It was sad.

Re:Awesome Launch (1)

decsnake (6658) | about 2 years ago | (#41180941)

wow, thats really interesting. why is it I never have mod points when I really want them?

Re:Awesome Launch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41181225)

That still doesn't explain how you got onto the roof of the Van Allen Belt.

Re:Awesome Launch (1)

clam666 (1178429) | about 2 years ago | (#41181677)

It was part of the "etc" in the tour. The real treat was that next year the tour includes the Van Alen Suspenders.

@decsnake: http://www.nasa.gov/connect/social/index.html [nasa.gov] has information about the Nasa Social program. It'a basically a lottery system, where you sign up and if not picked, you join a wait list. As not everyone who is picked is willing to travel, has conflicts, end-of-year vacation shortages, whatever, you can get chosen off the wait list. You and only you can currently go (no +1s), although, and not to separate myself from /. users, I actually have a girlfriend and we were both randomly chosen to go, which I think may be a first for them to have an actual couple there. In full disclosure, we're both pretty pathetic NASA nerds. The next two they have coming up are welcoming the Endeavour shuttle landing in California, and the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in the Mojave desert. Both are social events that are accepting people (and pretty much anyone can apply).

The events are completely free, and they throw in lots of goodies, however transportation, lodging, etc. is your own expense.

first US sat 55 years discovered space radiation (3, Interesting)

peter303 (12292) | about 2 years ago | (#41178105)

Suspected by van Allen, but took a satellite to prove it.
We still dont fully understand how space weather works, nor how it interacts with the climate and human technology.

Metric Units Only Please (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41178491)

Or at least quote the metric units first. If NASA is so se serious about going fully metric then they should go fully and only metric. Perhaps that would even help to educate the masses somewhat by forcing people to relate to it.

Re:Metric Units Only Please (1)

RaceProUK (1137575) | about 2 years ago | (#41179065)

It's a press release - it uses units the general public is most familiar and comfortable with. For everyday activities, the difference between metric and imperial is about as significant as a single drop of water in the Pacific Ocean.

Re:Metric Units Only Please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41179543)

We actually don't want to go metric. No more so than we want to drive on the left side of the road. Get over it, eurotrash.

Re:Metric Units Only Please (2)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#41181185)

Or at least quote the metric units first.

Gees, guys, conversion is really simple. A gallon is just under four litres. A Yard is a short meter. A kilometer is just over half a mile. It's not like you need exact measurements when you're not working on a device yourself.

H.A.A.R.P (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41178579)

was geared to tap this for an energy source..reports are however that in so doing it can have a bounce back effect that could actually cause weather anomallies and earthquakes.....
I wonder if this is trying to explore this as an energy source mitigating the bad side effects.

Re:H.A.A.R.P (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41179849)

H.A.A.R.P was "geared" for much more nefarious purposes. Your US tax dollars at work, paying this fucking shill's salary.

Re:H.A.A.R.P (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41180369)

HAARP was geared toward better understanding and dealing with the ionosphere's effects on communication and surveillance signals, and as a side-effect has allowed many scientists to learn more about basic plasma physics and the structure of the atmosphere and magnetosphere. If you have a deep interest in atmospheric studies, or fundamental plasma physics, they do some really cool stuff there. If you're not interested enough in the details of plasma physics research, e.g. can't name different kinds of plasma waves, then a lot of what they do would actually be very boring to you.

Robotic manufacturing advances? (1)

mattr (78516) | about 2 years ago | (#41178781)

I'm just wondering about length of time needed to build spacecraft. Is there a possibility of trying to develop full-on robot automated manufacturing of spacecraft to try and reduce cost and increase speed of manufacture? Or is it just that the current combination of no money up front, pushing the envelope, and needing human brainpower for testing and imagining failure modes? Are there any parts of spacecraft these days that are assembled robotically or is it 100% bespoke? Which is still cool but not space operaish yet. You see automated manufacturing attached to automated mining and supply lines means we can set up a remote site on the Moon or Mars.

Re:Robotic manufacturing advances? (2)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about 2 years ago | (#41179161)

Robots building robots is the first sign of the coming apocalypse

Re:Robotic manufacturing advances? (2)

marcosdumay (620877) | about 2 years ago | (#41181849)

Robots are already responsible for a good part of the work on building other robots (they are responsible for a good part of the work on building anything). And they are gaining terrain fast.

Re:Robotic manufacturing advances? (4, Interesting)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 2 years ago | (#41179205)

I'm just wondering about length of time needed to build spacecraft. Is there a possibility of trying to develop full-on robot automated manufacturing of spacecraft to try and reduce cost and increase speed of manufacture? Or is it just that the current combination of no money up front, pushing the envelope, and needing human brainpower for testing and imagining failure modes? Are there any parts of spacecraft these days that are assembled robotically or is it 100% bespoke? Which is still cool but not space operaish yet. You see automated manufacturing attached to automated mining and supply lines means we can set up a remote site on the Moon or Mars.

Excepting very few use cases, most spacecraft are bespoke because each mission is different. There are very few times when a spacecraft is constructed en masse - basically the same spacecraft churned out in multiple copies, and even then the number tends to be extremely limited (usually below 10), so setting up assembly lines doesn't generally justify the overhead.

Now, there are efforts to componentize spacecraft so building one is basically like snapping together Lego. Including having flight software automatically reconfigure itself to handle those blocks like modern OSes do when you plug in USB devices.

The main problem is that it's extremely expensive to launch spacecraft - easily $1B per launch. Neverminding the large fraction that don't make it at all. As such, equipment sent up there has to put up with some of the worst scenarios in the world - little projectiles whizzing along and handling all the damage it causes, limited weight (too heavy and it costs way more $$$), the fact that there's no way to practically repair it (very few get the Hubble treatment), and that it has to last many years (because you don't want to launch its replacement and spend another billion soon aferwards)

When you've got billion(s) on the line, spending a few years ensuring that failures are minimized and tolerated is just part of the game. Cube sats and such only have to last a few weeks - which is a much easier thing to do than making one last at least a decade or more.

Re:Robotic manufacturing advances? (4, Informative)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | about 2 years ago | (#41179459)

There's an article in this month's IEEE Spectrum about the Air Force pursuing the idea of "plug-and-play" satellites;

http://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/satellites/us-air-forces-plugandplay-satellites [ieee.org]

Note that RBSP is engineered to function to a region which most spacecraft avoid or pass through only briefly. There's a lot that's different in the design of these craft relative to a typical LEO satellite.

BTW, launch video is available here;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mlaQothGWA [youtube.com]

Interesting PR (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41178995)

The word "satellite" is eliminated except as something the mission can help out with. I'm used to "probe" meaning a platform shot beyond our orbit.

Are they just trying to ride the cool-factor of the recent Mars probe programs, or do these orbiters actually do something sufficiently different from satellites to earn the name-shift?

I'm fine with calling them "probes" since they're dipped in what's being studied. And I guess I'm okay with terms being fluffed for short-attention public and congress. But it first made me dig to find out how these were doing VAB study without being satellites, and then left me wondering if they're still not quite satellites in a way that's not explained. Is this terminology only PR? (If so, has it started with these?)

Re:Interesting PR (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41179939)

these are both satellites and probes.

A probe is a remote sensor (you can put a thermometer on a stick and call it a "probe"), whereas satellites are things that are in obit (the Moon, is a satellite.)

Re:Interesting PR (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41180119)

... except the press release calls them satellites twice, the same number of times it refers to them as probes.

There seems to be occasional odd posts in response to NASA stories that try to infer or imply things based on the absence of certain words on NASA's website and PR. I would say they are reading into things too much, but apparently not, as frequently the words they claim are missing are right there. At least in this case it is much more minor than the kooky people claiming NASA's website never uses the word 'plasma' (or even that it is illegal for them to do so), or avoiding the word 'electric' or 'magnetic,' etc.

How is this modded up? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41190731)

How is this modded up, the press release calls them satellites more than once.

Lights Out (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41179279)

Coule the Van Allen Belts could be used to produce an Electro Magnetic Pulse?

Revolution - JJ Abrams new show sounds like a scenario.

Names (1)

QuantumHack (58048) | about 2 years ago | (#41181597)

The probes ought to be named Heaviside and Van Allen, for the predictor and discoverer of these belts.

Hmmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41182447)

If my sensitive parts were protected by 0.33 inches (8.5 millimeters) of aluminum, they'd probably sag a little too much. And the chafing...

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