The Radiation Belt Storm Probes
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Most spacecraft try to avoid the Van Allen Belts, two doughnut-shaped regions around Earth filled with ‘killer electrons. On the 30th August NASA launched two heavily-shielded spacecraft directly into the belts. These probes dubbed The Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) are on a two-year mission to study the Van Allen Belts and to unravel the mystery of their unpredictability.
The Van Allen radiation belt is a torus consisting of two layers of charged particles, or plasma, around Earth and is held in place by Earth’s magnetic field. The belt extends from a height of about 1,000 to 60,000 kilometres above the Earth’s surface. It is thought that most of the particles come from solar wind and cosmic rays. It is named after its discoverer, James Van Allen, and is located in the inner region of the Earth’s magnetosphere. It is split into two belts, a combination of protons and electrons forming the inner belt and with electrons forming the outer belt. The belts can be a hazard to satellites if their orbit spends significant time in the radiation belts therefore they must protect their sensitive components with adequate shielding.