On Tuesday, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched a satellite that will provide scientists with the data they need to better understand near-Earth radiation. The Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace satellite will orbit through the Van Allen radiation belts, which is home to the sorts of high-energy electrons and ions that researchers need to figure out how to combat if we’re ever going to put humans on Mars.
The Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace satellite could have had any number of acronyms that dont sound like like a caricature of gastrointestinal distress, yet for whatever reason settled on ERG. It launched into space via the Epsilon Launch Vehicle from the Uchinoura Space Center in southern Japan at 8 p.m. local time.
Radiation is not just an issue for the health of future deep-space astronauts — it also degrades equipment, causing satellite computer malfunctioning among other things. The Van Allen radiation belts, full of fast-moving particles trapped by the Earth’s magnetic field, are known for forming and then vanishing with space storms and solar winds.
“The purpose of the geospace exploration satellite, Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace (ERG), is to reveal how these high-energy electrons are accelerated and created, and how space storms develop,” reads a JAXA factsheet on the satellite we are still apparently referring to as ERG. “ERG will make a comprehensive observation of the electrons and ions near the equatorial plane in geospace, which is thought to be the area where the acceleration of such electrons is occurring. In order to understand the acceleration of electrons in the radiation belts, ERG will be equipped with newly developed instruments and continuously observe over a wide energy range in the equatorial plane of the radiation belts.”
The mission will last at least a year and use a total of nine different instruments to collect and catalogue the data. In addition to the implications for deep-space travel and the Mars missions, ERG, which by this point is also the sound I involuntarily make each time I am forced to type its name, can teach us more about how particle acceleration occurs across the universe.