A NASA-funded CubeSat, built and operated at LASP, will study the inner radiation belt of Earth’s magnetosphere, providing new insight into the energetic particles that can disrupt satellites and threaten spacewalking astronauts.
The $4 million Cubesat: Inner Radiation Belt Experiment (CIRBE) mission, tentatively slated for a 2021 launch, will provide some of the first advanced resolution of one of Earth’s two Van Allen belts, a zone that traps energetic particles in the planet’s magnetic field. This powerful radiation, known to physicists since the late 1950s, poses a hazard to solar panels, electronic circuitry, and other hardware onboard spacecraft traveling at and beyond low-Earth orbit.
A 60-year-old mystery regarding the source of some energetic and potentially damaging particles in Earth’s radiation belts is now solved using data from a shoebox-sized satellite built and operated by University of Colorado Boulder students at LASP.
The results from the new study indicate energetic electrons in Earth’s inner radiation belt—primarily near its inner edge—are created by cosmic rays born from explosions of supernovas, said the study’s lead author, LASP scientist Xinlin Li. Earth’s radiation belts, known as the Van Allen belts, are layers of energetic particles held in place by Earth’s magnetic field.
CU-Boulder students, working under the guidance of LASP scientists and engineers, have finished building a satellite to study space weather and have sent it to California Polytechnic Institute to begin integration with launch vehicle systems. More than 50 graduate and undergraduate students have contributed to designing and building the Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment (CSSWE), an $840,000 CubeSat mission funded by the National Science Foundation. The satellite is scheduled to launch into low-Earth polar orbit in early August 2012 as a secondary payload under NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program.
LASP/CU-Boulder students are designing and building a satellite that will study space weather—changes in near-Earth space conditions that adversely affect Earth-orbiting spacecraft and communication technologies. The Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment (CSSWE) is an $840,000 CubeSat mission funded by the National Science Foundation. CSSWE is scheduled to launch into low-Earth polar orbit in June 2012 as a secondary payload under NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program.