Space Science Reviews

, Volume 179, Issue 1, pp 3-27

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Science Objectives and Rationale for the Radiation Belt Storm Probes Mission

  • B. H. MaukAffiliated withApplied Physics Laboratory, The Johns Hopkins University Email author 
  • , N. J. FoxAffiliated withApplied Physics Laboratory, The Johns Hopkins University
  • , S. G. KanekalAffiliated withCode 674, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  • , R. L. KesselAffiliated withSMD, Heliophysics Division, NASA Headquarters
  • , D. G. SibeckAffiliated withCode 674, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  • , A. UkhorskiyAffiliated withApplied Physics Laboratory, The Johns Hopkins University


The NASA Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission addresses how populations of high energy charged particles are created, vary, and evolve in space environments, and specifically within Earth’s magnetically trapped radiation belts. RBSP, with a nominal launch date of August 2012, comprises two spacecraft making in situ measurements for at least 2 years in nearly the same highly elliptical, low inclination orbits (1.1×5.8 RE, 10). The orbits are slightly different so that 1 spacecraft laps the other spacecraft about every 2.5 months, allowing separation of spatial from temporal effects over spatial scales ranging from ∼0.1 to 5 RE. The uniquely comprehensive suite of instruments, identical on the two spacecraft, measures all of the particle (electrons, ions, ion composition), fields (E and B), and wave distributions (d E and d B) that are needed to resolve the most critical science questions. Here we summarize the high level science objectives for the RBSP mission, provide historical background on studies of Earth and planetary radiation belts, present examples of the most compelling scientific mysteries of the radiation belts, present the mission design of the RBSP mission that targets these mysteries and objectives, present the observation and measurement requirements for the mission, and introduce the instrumentation that will deliver these measurements. This paper references and is followed by a number of companion papers that describe the details of the RBSP mission, spacecraft, and instruments.


Radiation belt Magnetosphere Geomagnetic storms NASA mission