NASA ends 7-year old Van Allen Probes mission that studied Earth's radiation belts
NASA announced that it has decommissioned its 7-year old Van Allen Probes on Thursday. The mission was launched back in August 2012 to study space weather and the radiation belts around the Earth. It comprised of two satellites that were placed in Van Allen belts which studied how these rings acquire and lose electromagnetic particles.
According to a report by Space.com, the mission scientists sent the final command to the second Van Allen Probe on Friday, October 18, 2019, at 12:30 pm EDT (10:00 pm IST). The other probe had got its last command back on July 19 earlier this year.
Understanding space weather is important as it interferes with our on-ground power grids, navigation communications satellites in orbit and health of astronauts. Apart from studying space weather, the probes also studied invisible activities around the radiation belts and made other discoveries, such as how electrically charged molecules, also known as ions, can change the Earth’s magnetic field.
“The Van Allen Probes rewrote the textbook on radiation belt physics,” Sasha Ukhorskiy, Van Allen Probes project scientist at APL said in a statement. “The Probes used uniquely capable instruments to unveil radiation belt features that were all but invisible to previous sensors, and discover many new physical mechanisms of radiation belt acceleration and loss.”
The Van Allen Probes were made to last at least two and a half years, they ended up lasting over twice of that time. The program was initially named as Radiation Belt Storm Probes and cost $670 million to NASA at the time of the launch.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) team which was looking after the mission had earlier this year lowered the orbit of the satellite pair before they ran out of fuel. Both the satellites will exist in the orbit for approximately 15 years during which they are going to slowly come towards the atmosphere and get destroyed in the orbit.
Over the years, space scientists have been puzzled over the radiation belts around our planet ever since they were first discovered in 1958. For decades, spacecraft observations were limited to short trips because the radiation region is very hazardous.
“This mission spent seven years in the radiation belts, and broke all the records for a spacecraft to tolerate and operate in that hazardous region, all with no interruptions,” Nelofar Mosavi of APL, the Van Allen Probes project manager said in a statement.