The tiny CREPT instrument will augment the science of NASA?s Van Allen Probes, formerly known as the Radiation Belt Storm Probes. This artist?s rendering of the Van Allen Probes mission shows the path of its two spacecraft through the radiation belts that surround Earth, which are made visible in false color. Credit: Credit: NASA

Tiny CREPT instrument to study the radiation belts

February 14, 2013

Weighing just 3.3 pounds, the Compact Relativistic Electron and Proton Telescope (CREPT) will “augment the science of a major flagship mission” and demonstrate the effectiveness of two new technologies that make the instrument four times faster than its 30-pound sibling at gathering and processing data, says CREPT Principal Investigator Shri Kanekal at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The small solid-state telescope, which Kanekal and his team are developing under NASA’s Low-Cost Access to Space (LCAS) program, will measure energetic electrons and protons in Earth’s Van Allen Belts, which are large doughnuts of radiation that surround Earth. CREPT measurements will give scientists a better understanding of the physics of how the radiation belts lose electrons by a process known as electron microbursts.

Discovered in 1958 with instruments aboard NASA’s Explorer 1 spacecraft, the Van Allen radiation belts have long intrigued scientists. The inner belt, stretching from about 1,000 to 8,000 miles above Earth’s surface, is fairly stable. However, the outer ring, spanning 12,000 to 25,000 miles, can swell up to 100 times its usual size during solar storms, engulfing communications and research satellites, bathing them in harmful radiation.

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