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Two NASA satellites will use SpaceX Falcon Heavy to study the ionosphere of the Earth

NASA will launch two identical miniature satellites next week as part of a project designed to help scientists understand how Earth's atmosphere blurs the radio signals we rely on for communication and navigation.

The pair will be part of a total of 24 satellites launched aboard SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket as it climbs into space for the third time, with a launch date currently scheduled for June 24 after a few delays. The two identical spacecraft are cubesats, which are miniature satellites originally used only in low Earth orbit, but are now sometimes used for interplanetary missions.

These two satellites, called E-TBEx, abbreviation for Enhanced Tandem Beacon Experiment, will stay close to you. As they gravitate around the Earth, they will provide scientists with essential information about radio signals can be disturbed as they cross the upper atmosphere of the planet.

Related: In Photos: The Falcon Heavy at the Space Falcon Triple Landing of Arabsat-6A

The terrestrial ionosphere, a layer of the upper atmosphere bombarded by solar and cosmic radiation and thus full of charged particles, contains "structured bubbles". These bubbles can distort radio signals, interfering with military and aerial communications, as well as GPS signals. NASA said in a statement, especially above the equator.

As we learn more about these bubbles, we can avoid the signal problems they cause, according to NASA. But for now, scientists do not know when the bubbles will form or how they will change over time. "These bubbles are hard to study in the field," said Rick Doe, head of the E-TBEx mission payload program, in a statement. "If you see that the bubbles start to form, then they move."

NASA hopes that E-TBEx satellites will be able to study the evolution of bubbles before they begin to deform radio waves, said Doe. This would help scientists better understand the underlying physics of bubbles.

Scientists already know that physics has something to do with ionized particles in this layer of the earth 's atmosphere. The particles of the ionosphere are separated into a "sea of ​​positive and negative particles, called plasma"Plasma is mixed with neutral gases like the air we breathe."

This clip shows how each of NASA's twin E-TBEx satellites will deploy its solar panels and its measuring ribbon antennas once in space.

(Image: © Exploration Laboratory of the University of Michigan / Michigan)

The complex recipe means that the Earth's upper atmosphere and the bubbles that form there react to different factors, including electric and magnetic fields. Earth and space weather. Scientists believe that pressure waves generated by large storm systems can reach the ionosphere and create winds that can affect the movement and formation of bubbles. Plasma charged particles would also be affected by space weather, which can affect electric and magnetic fields.

The two E-TBEx satellites will emit radio signals at three frequencies, all close to those used by communication and communication systems. GPS satellites, according to NASA. These signals will be sent to receiving stations on the ground, allowing scientists to detect minimal changes in phase or amplitude of signals. Scientists will then be able to map the disturbances in the region of the ionosphere where they passed.

"All the signals are created at the same time – with the same phase – so you can tell how they are deforming through the bubbles," Doe said. "Then, looking at the distortions, you can remove information about the amount of roughness and density in the bubbles."

The two satellites aboard Falcon Heavy are joined by similar tags on board The six NOAA COSMIC-2 satellites. A combination of measurements from the eight satellites will allow scientists to study distortions simultaneously from multiple angles.

Scientists hope the project will help them develop strategies to avoid signal distortion. For example, NASA said: the airlines could possibly choose a radio frequency for communications less sensitive to air bubbles or the army could delay an important operation until the disappearance of a disruptive ionospheric bubble.

Visit Space.com on June 24 for full coverage of the launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket and onboard payloads.

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