The two 4x4x6-inch Focused Investigations of Relativistic Electron Burst Intensity, Range, and Dynamics (FIREBIRD) satellites will now brave a region of space 400 miles above Earth, where they have begun probing a mysterious physical process within our planet's dangerous radiation belts.
That process, known as microbursts, involves electrons moving at nearly the speed of light during short-duration (100 milliseconds) events. Microbursts are thought to be one of the primary mechanisms by which the outer radiation belt loses energetic particles to Earth's atmosphere after the occurrence of powerful solar storms. Such storms can dramatically change the intensity of the radiation belts.
"We care about this because the belts' high-energy particles, particularly the electrons, pose a real risk to spacecraft," says Crew, who worked on FIREBIRD for over three years to recently earn his Ph.D. "So if we understand these physical processes better, we'll be able to predict how the radiation belts will behave and both protect the satellites we depend upon for telecommunications, weather monitoring and prediction, etcetera, and design them to withstand this high-energy radiation," Crew adds.
FIREBIRD was among ten other CubeSats that shared a ride into space on a rocket dedicated to a larger mission - in this case, an Atlas 5 rocket launching a payload for the U.S.
The little satellites are placed into a compartment known as a Poly Picosatellite Orbital Deployer, P-POD for short, and jettisoned from the rocket at the proper orbital height above Earth. FIREBIRD was the first to be deployed and is the first CubeSat mission UNH scientists have been involved with.
Funded by the
"The tiny Firebird CubeSats are poised for big science discoveries, providing first-of-a-kind, multi-point observations of microbursts that will help answer crucial questions about radiation belt dynamics and processes," says
California Polytechnic State and
Crew's advisor and UNH mission lead scientist for FIREBIRD is astrophysicist
UNH and collaborators have already been funded for the follow-up FIREBIRD II mission slated for launch in
Keywords for this news article include: Spacecraft, Government Agencies, Offices and Entities, Aerospace and Defense,
Our reports deliver fact-based news of research and discoveries from around the world. Copyright 2013, NewsRx LLC
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