Compared with the simple Geiger counter on America's first satellite Explorer 1, which uncovered the radiation belts, these two new 1,400-pound probes contain the latest in microelectronics. Each satellite has eight science instruments.
"This is a phenomenal set of instruments," said University of Iowa physicist Craig Kletzing, a principal investigator. "This is the best that's ever been flown in the radiation belts, and we'll make tremendous advances."
The University of Iowa is where James Van Allen spent his famed career. His 1958 discovery of the radiation belts are said to be the first scientific discovery of the Space Age.
Sarah Van Allen, his daughter, was at the mission control center in Laurel, Md., for Thursday's launch.
For now, these newest satellites are called A and B. After a two-month checkout, NASA plans to give them real names.
Perhaps Van and Allen? That's what Fox calls them "because they're close to my heart."
Van Allen was 91 and dying when the Radiation Belt Storm Probes won approval in 2006. How would the late Van Allen feel about the endeavor?
"Very pumped up," Kletzing said.
It took NASA three tries to launch the spacecraft. Last week's attempts were thwarted by trouble with a tracking beacon on the Atlas V rocket and then stormy weather. NASA opted to wait until the passage of Hurricane Isaac before trying again.
Johns Hopkins: http://rbsp.jhuapl.edu/
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