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March 2011

In the Loop: An Instrumental Milestone

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes team at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory closed February with a flurry of instrument activities and a significant development milestone.

On Feb. 25, technicians installed the Relativistic Proton Spectrometer instruments on each spacecraft. The RPS will measure the intensity of high-energy protons trapped in the inner Van Allen belt; these protons are known to pose a number of hazards to astronauts and satellites. Results of the RPS investigation, led by the National Reconnaissance Office, could help engineers design spacecraft better able to withstand the harsh environs of the radiation belts.

“We’ve seen the spacecraft come together nicely over the past few months, starting with their frames, propulsion systems, wiring and electronics,” says Kim Cooper, RBSP’s deputy project manager for instruments at APL. “Now the instruments – the devices that carry out the mission’s science goals – are coming onboard, and the team is excited to see the first of them attached to each probe.”

That same week, team members from the University of Iowa delivered and began preparing the Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (EMFISIS) package for space-environment testing at APL. The EMFISIS investigation will look into the acceleration and loss of particles in the radiation belts – particularly how that activity is influenced by magnetic fields and plasma waves.

Engineers also completed thermal-balance tests on RBSPICE, verifying the thermal-protection designs on the ion-composition instruments. RBSPICE is designed to study how space weather creates currents in Earth’s magnetic and radiation fields..

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes are scheduled to launch in mid-2012 and survey the harsh environment of the radiation belts that surround Earth. APL manages the RBSP mission for NASA and will operate the spacecraft; check back for more photos and updates as the mission moves toward launch!

Read about RPS

Read about EMFISIS

Click on the thumbnail image for a larger version.

T-Vac Image 1
Scott Bounds, project manager for the Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (EMFISIS) instrument from University of Iowa, sets up the instrument for testing at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab on Feb. 24, 2011.

From left, Albert Lin, Dan Mabry (seated) and Joe Mazur check over the Relativistic Proton Spectrometer in an APL laboratory on Feb. 24, 2011, before handing it off for integration with the RBSP spacecraft.

T-Vac Image 3
With a few ratchet cranks, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab technicians secure the Relativistic Proton Spectrometer instrument to Radiation Belt Storm Probe �B� on Feb. 25, 2011.

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