Radiation Belt Storm Probes dual spacecraft mission occurred this morning at 4:05 AM EDT from Launch Complex 41 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, into a highly elliptical orbit designed to continually cycle between the inner and outer radiation belts at an apogee distance of over 5 Earth radii (> 32,000 km) and a perigee altitude of only 600 km. Along with other US geospace radar facilities such as the SuperDARN HF radar network, the Millstone Hill incoherent scatter radar system at MIT Haystack Observatory in eastern Massachusetts will be participating in collaborative science experiments beginning later this fall to study magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling processes and their effects on the ionized and neutral upper atmosphere.
As the dual RBSP spacecraft trajectories cross through regions magnetically connected to the subauroral / mid-latitude ionosphere, onboard data on radiation belt electric and magnetic field and energetic particles will be complemented by simultaneous ionospheric measurements from Millstone Hill's wide field MISA steerable antenna and flow velocities from the SuperDARN radar network, allowing studies of the still poorly understood details of magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling.
NASA also published the launch video (with sound!).
Text: Philip Erickson, photo from the announcement, where there is a larger version available. Image credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann.