An experimental satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate to study the Van Allen radiation belts has extended its enormous antenna.
The Demonstration and Science Experiments (DSX) satellite was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on June 25. The mission was the provider’s most complex to date deploying 24 payloads into four different orbits. The DSX satellite was the largest onboard and was successfully deployed into an elliptical path in medium Earth orbit.
According to an Air Force Research Lab press release, the DSX will be used to study the Van Allen radiation belts to better understand their effect on spacecraft components.
“The DSX satellite experiment will greatly increase our understanding of the environment spacecraft operate in and will give us the knowledge to build even better satellites to protect and defend our space assets,” said Major General William Cooley, AFRL commander.
In order to study the Van Allen belts, the DSX satellite is equipped with a unique suite of technologies. The most notable are two immense deployable graphite antenna booms. The first measures just 16 metres tip-to-tip, while the second extends out to 80 metres tip-to-tip. Both booms were reportedly successfully deployed on July 12 making the satellite “one of the largest deployable structures in orbit.”
Currently, the DSX satellite is in “launch and early operations”. During this time, engineers and researchers are performing checks on the satellite’s various systems in preparation for data collection. Once operational, the satellite’s primary mission is expected to continue for at least a year.