Just hours after launch, RBSP takes first science steps

September 14, 2012
Smiles and celebration at 4:05 in the morning: The RBSP Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., at liftoff of RBSP on Aug. 30. Credit: JHU/APL

(Phys.org)—While the RBSP teams at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station celebrated a job well done following the 4:05 a.m. EDT launch of the Radiation Belt Storm Probes on Thursday, Aug. 30, another group of RBSP engineers and scientists celebrated at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. But for many of those at APL's Mission Operations Center (MOC) that morning, their job on the RBSP mission was about to get very busy.

Immediately after launch, RBSP entered a 60-day commissioning phase of operations, where all of the spacecrafts' systems and instruments are activated, monitored, and made ready for the two-year primary .

After the deployment of both spacecraft from the Centaur stage of the Atlas V rocket some 90 minutes after launch, the RBSP team at the MOC went immediately to work. Their job was to establish contact with the twin probes, and make sure the spacecraft deployed their solar panels and were receiving power from them.

With those power and communications systems checked out, the RBSP spacecraft and teams had little time to celebrate – there was much to do on RBSP's first day in orbit. The twin Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (EMFISIS) booms (two on each spacecraft, located at the edges of two solar panels) were the first instruments to be powered up and deployed. This was done so that the magnetic signatures of the other instruments could be observed as they were powered up. In addition to providing science data for the EMFISIS team, magnetometers on the booms are used by the mission operations team (along with sun sensors) to help determine the attitude of the spacecraft, which in this case is the angle at which they are pointed at the sun.

Additionally, the Storm Probes Ion Composition Experiment (RBSPICE) instrument was turned on – though only with low voltage, just enough to power up the Engineering Radiation Monitor (ERM), which keeps track of the amount of radiation entering RBSP.

The first Saturday of the mission (Sept. 1) saw the first full powering-up of one of the many instruments on the spacecraft. At about 3 a.m. EDT, the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope (REPT) instrument of the Energetic Particle, Composition, and Thermal Plasma Suite (ECT) aboard spacecraft A was turned on, and useable data began to immediately stream back to the REPT team. REPT-B was powered up 12 hours later.

Saturday's achievements didn't stop there: The Relativistic Proton Spectrometer (RPS) on spacecraft B was turned on, while its sibling on spacecraft A was powered up on Sunday, Sept. 2.

During the first two weeks of orbit, the spacecraft completed a series of small changes in velocity and also adjusted the angle at which they face the sun, known as "precession." These were done to optimize the orbit and operation of the spacecraft.

"Things are going very smoothly with the spacecraft," says Ray Harvey, RBSP mission operations manager. "We've also begun to send out preliminary test data for the space weather broadcast from the spacecraft, in the same format as the final broadcast will be, so the partner institutions can verify they are receiving it."

On Wednesday, Sept. 5, the Instrument Data Processing Unit (IDPU) for Electric Field and Waves Suite (EFW) was powered up to prepare for the upcoming deployment of EFW's four booms (per spacecraft), and on Thursday, Sept. 6, the eight Magnetic Electron Ion Spectrometers (MagEIS, another of ECT's three instruments) were powered up; each spacecraft has four MagEIS instruments that measure widely different energy ranges.

The next major instrument activity is the EFW boom deployment, which begins on Sept. 13, when both RBSP spacecraft will be spun up to seven RPM from their normal five RPM. This will prepare them for the change in momentum following the initial deployment of the EFW spin-plane booms. The doors containing the booms will open, and then on Friday, Sept. 14, the first four meters of the booms will be deployed. Over the following days, more of each boom will be deployed every day, until the four booms (each is 50 meters long) are fully out. In roughly the middle of this process, the RBSP MOC team will also send a command to open the door to the aperture on the RBSPICE instrument that will allow it to begin full science operations.

The final RBSP instrument to be powered up will be an ECT instrument: the Helium Oxygen Proton Electron (HOPE) , which will be powered up sometime in mid to late October, after the have deployed all their booms and completed their commissioning-phase maneuvers.

Explore further: NJIT scientist creates instrument for NASA Aug. 23 launch

Related Stories

NJIT scientist creates instrument for NASA Aug. 23 launch

August 7, 2012

NJIT Distinguished Research Professor and former Bell Labs scientist Louis J. Lanzerotti, will see his 50-year quest to better understand space weather and Earth's Van Allen Radiation Belts rocket, once again, into space ...

New NASA mission ready to brave Earth's radiation belts

August 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. 23, from Florida's ...

New RBSP instrument telemetry provides 'textbook' excitement

September 13, 2012

(Phys.org)—In the very early hours of Sept. 1 – just under two days since the 4:05 a.m. EDT launch of NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes – the team at the RBSP Mission Operations Center (MOC) controlling spacecraft ...

Recommended for you

NASA team probes peculiar age-defying star

August 29, 2016

For years, astronomers have puzzled over a massive star lodged deep in the Milky Way that shows conflicting signs of being extremely old and extremely young.

Milky way had a blowout bash six million years ago

August 29, 2016

The center of the Milky Way galaxy is currently a quiet place where a supermassive black hole slumbers, only occasionally slurping small sips of hydrogen gas. But it wasn't always this way. A new study shows that 6 million ...

NASA's Juno successfully completes Jupiter flyby

August 29, 2016

NASA's Juno mission successfully executed its first of 36 orbital flybys of Jupiter today. The time of closest approach with the gas-giant world was 6:44 a.m. PDT (9:44 a.m. EDT, 13:44 UTC) when Juno passed about 2,600 miles ...

Hubble spots an irregular island in a sea of space

August 29, 2016

This image, courtesy of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), captures the glow of distant stars within NGC 5264, a dwarf galaxy located just over 15 million light-years away in the constellation ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.