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January 6, 2012

Smooth Swinging: Solar Panel Deployment Testing Success

NASA’s twin Radiation Belt Storm Probe satellites will depend on their solar panels for power during their two-year orbit of Earth. Testing of these critical components continues at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

Following acoustic and vibration testing of the mated spacecraft in December 2011– which simulated the forces that will affect RBSP during launch – the two probes were separated to resume integration and testing of instruments, systems and electronics. To ensure that each spacecraft’s solar panels (four per satellite) would deploy properly following the rigors of acoustic and vibration testing, additional tests were conducted late last month. The video included here is of spacecraft B’s solar panel opening in a gravity-negated test; a cable connected to the top of the panel offsets the pull of Earth’s gravity, and provided the team with an accurate simulation of on-orbit deployment (the hinges are designed to operate in a near-zero-gravity environment). Each panel on each spacecraft is tested to make sure the deployment mechanisms are operating correctly.

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes are scheduled to launch in August 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.

Click on the thumbnail image for a larger version.

In this image from early January, the RBSP team has successfully deployed one of spacecraft As solar panels, and they watch as the Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (EMFISIS) tri-axial search coil magnetometer boom is deployed, captured here in mid-swing in the center of the photo. CREDIT: JHU/APL

Above: RBSP spacecraft B successfully deploys one of its four solar panels in a gravity-negated test. Credit: JHU/APL

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