Chasing storms in space

Aug 31, 2012 by Brian Murphy
Two new NASA satellites launched today will monitor space storm activity. U of A physics professor Ian Mann is one of NASA's co-investigators on the mission. Image: NASA

There was probably no one looking forward to this morning with more anticipation than University of Alberta physics professor Ian Mann, when an Atlas rocket lifted a pair of NASA satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Mann was appointed a NASA co-investigator on the $700-million mission that will see two satellites monitor space radiation storms headed towards Earth.

Mann describes space radiation as highly in a doughnut-shaped belt surrounding Earth. Periodic blasts of solar activity can whip the particles up to nearly the speed of light, and the resulting space storms can knock out and endanger the health of astronauts. personnel could be vulnerable when required to make spacewalks.

"The focus of this mission of discovery is to understand the mechanisms that generate , and eventually we hope to be able to predict them," said Mann.

The , named Radiation Belt Storm Probes, will send the two satellites into the , one of the most dangerous regions of outer space.

"The satellites will fly in slightly different orbits so they'll give us complete coverage of any incoming space storms and measure the scale of disturbances from two points," said Mann. "These satellites will fly right into the heart of the radiation belt."

Mann has been connected to the mission since the planning stages. Throughout the two-year orbital mission, he will be meeting with other co-investigators and analyzing data sent back to Earth.

"NASA is recognizing the U of A's experience in space storm research," said Mann.

This is not the first time Mann has been appointed a co-investigator on a NASA space storm project. In 2009, he led a team of U of A researchers in using ground-based monitors and satellites to pinpoint the impact epicentre of space storms as they crashed into Earth's atmosphere.

Mann says the success of the new mission could influence future space exploration.

"In the future, manned expeditions to far-off planets like Mars will involve assembling space vehicles in the zero gravity of low Earth orbit," said Mann. "To do that safely we'll have to know just how dangerous space storms can be for people and how to predict when they're coming our way."

Explore further: MAVEN Mars spacecraft to begin orbit of Red Planet

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers set alarm for incoming space storms

May 27, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton has broken new ground in outer space by pinpointing the impact epicentre of an Earthbound space storm as it crashes into the ...

University of Alberta space research to solve aurora mystery

Jan 10, 2007

On February 15, NASA will launch the largest number of scientific satellites ever sent into orbit aboard a single rocket. A handful of Alberta scientists will be at Kennedy Space Center watching and waiting. For Dr. Ian Mann ...

New NASA mission ready to brave Earth's radiation belts

Aug 10, 2012

(Phys.org) -- NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission will send two spacecraft into the harsh environment of our planet's radiation belts. Final preparations have begun for launch on Thursday, Aug. ...

Recommended for you

Internet moguls Musk, Bezos shake up US space race

Sep 20, 2014

The space race to end America's reliance on Russia escalated this week with a multibillion dollar NASA award for SpaceX's Elon Musk and an unexpected joint venture for Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos.

User comments : 0