Launched in 2012, NASA’s twin Van Allen radiation belt probes have been swinging through the hazardously charged-particle region around Earth while returning valuable scientific data that has not only helped scientists better understand this protective region around Earth but also plan for future missions of exploration that will travel beyond the Van Allen belts.
More than six years after launch, controllers have begun the process of ending the Van Allen probes mission by lowering their orbital perigees from 385 miles (619 km) to 190 miles (305 km) – a change that will set up an end to the probes’ mission in early 2020 and a controlled re-entry roughly 15 years from now.
The coming end:
It might seem odd that the Van Allen Probes mission has begun taking steps for a destructive reentry to Earth’s atmosphere 15 years from now.
But in the world of close-to-Earth space travel, it all comes down to ensuring that the probes do not contribute to the large population of space junk and potentially hazardous debris in Earth orbit.
And this, for the Van Allen probes, is something that requires action now for an event that won’t occur until 2034.
The Van Allen probes ...