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February 23, 2012

RBSP Enters Thermal Vacuum Testing

On Feb. 21, NASA’s twin Radiation Belt Storm Probe satellites began what will be a six-week test of their ability to perform in the harsh conditions of space. The fully-assembled spacecraft (minus their solar panel arrays and instrument booms) were carefully raised and sealed into two identical thermal vacuum testing chambers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

These chambers duplicate the airless vacuum of space and the temperature extremes in which RBSP will perform after launch in August 2012. The spacecraft will operate under power while inside the test chambers to ensure that the electronics and mechanical systems are performing as designed. In the coming weeks, a mission simulation will be conducted that will put the spacecraft through a 10-day work cycle set in “Feb. 2013;” this lengthy test will provide engineers and scientists with more information about RBSP’s capabilities while operating in conditions nearly identical to those above the Earth.

Look for more stories and details about this crucial phase of RBSP testing in the coming weeks.

During RBSP’s two year primary mission, the probes will help scientists study the Van Allen radiation belts which surround our planet, and learn more about the processes that create them and cause them to vary in size and intensity.

RBSP is scheduled for launch no earlier than Aug. 15, 2012, from the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. APL built the RBSP spacecraft for NASA and manages the mission. The RBSP mission is part of NASA's Living With a Star program, guided by the Heliophysics Division of the NASA Headquarters Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Click on the thumbnail image for a larger version.


NASA's RBSP spacecraft A is ready to be raised into the thermal vacuum test chamber at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab for what will be six weeks of testing. CREDIT: NASA/JHUAPL


At the chamber to the left of spacecraft A, spacecraft B is also ready to begin testing that will simulate the harsh temperature swings and airless vacuum of space. CREDIT: NASA/JHUAPL


APL's RBSP team carefully raise spacecraft A upward and into the thermal vacuum test chamber. CREDIT: NASA/JHUAPL


Nearly there: RBSP spacecraft A has almost completed its ascent into the test chamber. CREDIT: NASA/JHUAPL


Both RBSP spacecraft are now successfully sealed into their thermal vacuum test chambers. CREDIT: NASA/JHUAPL

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