How Japan's Newly Launched Satellite Will Study Earth's Radiation Belts

Dec 21, 2016 05:19 AM EST

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has successfully launched a new satellite that will study the Earth's inner magnetosphere by passing through the Van Allen radiation belts.

Dubbed as "Arase," the new Exploration of Energizing and Radiation in Geospace (ERG) spacecraft was launched into orbit at 11:00 GMT on Dec. 20, 2016, aboard an Epsilon rocket fired from the Uchinoura Space Center in southern Japan.

JAXA's Arase Specs

According to a report from Spaceflight Insider, the Epsilon Rocket used in the launch is a three-stage, 85-foot Japanese solid-fuel rocket. Making its debut flight in 2013, the Epsilon Rocket is the replacement of Japan's M-V Rocket.

The whole launch process, from liftoff to deployment took about 13 minutes and 27 seconds. Arase sent off its first signal and was received by the Santiago Ground Station in the Republic of Chile at 11:32 GMT. The signal confirms that the ERG spacecraft had successfully deployed its solar array paddles.

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A Satellite Named From Famous Folktale

JAXA got the name of the new ERG satellite from the Arase River that runs through the location of the Uchinoura Space Center.

"Arase River has a local folktale of bird's beautiful singing. Since ERG observes 'chorus,' it conveys the significance well," JAXA wrote in a press release. "Chorus is a plasma wave generated in the magnetic equator of Earth's magnetosphere. Its frequency band ranges within several kHz. Audibly converted, Chorus sounds much like bird's singing."

Arase's Radiation Belt Mission

For its one-year mission, Arase would utilize nine state-of-the-art instruments at its disposal to look into the mechanism behind the acceleration and creation of high-energy electrons and how space storms are formed. In order to complete its mission, the ERG spacecraft needs to waltz through the Van Allen radiation belt. 

The Van Allen radiation belt is the area in the inner magnetosphere of the Earth where huge numbers of fast-moving electrons and other particles were trapped. Electrons and particles in the Van Allen radiation belt can damage the computer systems inside the satellites and even pose potential radiation damage to astronauts.

Updates regarding the completion of the critical operation phase of Arase will be out in a month. The primary mission of the new ERG satellite is expected to last for only a year, with a possibility of extensions.

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