A NASA mission that was expected to launch last Friday has now been delayed until Aug. 30. When the Atlas V Rocket, built by the Denver-headquartered United Launch Alliance and carrying the Radiation Belt Storm Probes, finally does lift off, it will take with it key instruments that were developed at CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. Here are the details.
* According to the University of Colorado , the Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission was originally scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Aug. 24. However, it was delayed for a day due to technical issues. NASA reported on Saturday that an unfavorable weather forecast from Tropical Storm Isaac required the date to be moved to next Thursday, pending approval from the U.S. Air Force's Eastern Range.
* The mission will include CU-Boulder's Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope. This instrument is smaller than a shoebox and is designed to capture and measure high energy electrons.
* The high energy electrons located in the Van Allen radiation belts, which are known to be hazardous to satellites, astronauts and electronics systems on earth, are "perhaps the longest standing puzzle in space research," said Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics director, Daniel Baker. Baker is also a professor at CU-Boulder's physics and astrophysical and planetary sciences departments.
* The Van Allen radiation belt is normally located about 1,000 to 8,000 miles above earth, but the outer belt reaches from about 12,000 to 25,000 miles high, the university reported. During extreme solar activity, the belts can more than double in size.
* Baker explained that the electrons are confined to Earths magnetic cocoon, are one of the main risks to orbiting spacecraft and that the mission represents a major step to understanding and mitigating the impacts of space weather.
* The university's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics professionals and students also developed an electronics package for a different aspect of the mission. The Digital Fields Board is the "brains" of the Electric Fields and Wave suite onboard the spacecraft, explained Professor Robert Ergun. Ergun led the team who developed the Digital Fields Board.
* According to Ergun, in a press release from the Laboratory and Space Physics department, the mission is particularly exciting because scientists will measure all of the important aspects of the radiation belt environment, including the particles, the waves that are acting on them and the ways the near-Earth radiation environment changes in space and time.
* The CU aerospace engineering science department also developed and built a miniature model of the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope to be launched aboard a CU-student-built CubeSat as part of NASA's education CubeSat satellite effort, the university reported.
* CU-Boulder will receive approximately $6 million from NASA for the lifetime of the Electric Fields and Wave suite and about $12 million for the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope, the university reported.