The new name, the Van Allen Probes, replaces the previous name of Radiation Belt Storm Probes launched in August and was announced Friday during a ceremony at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., where Van Allen worked during and after World War II.
"James Van Allen was a true pioneer in astrophysics," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "His ground breaking research paved the way for current and future space exploration. These spacecraft now not only honor his iconic name but his mark on science."
Van Allen was the head of the physics department at the University of Iowa when he discovered the two belts of highly charged particles that encircle the planet.
The Van Allen belts are affected by solar storms and coronal mass ejections and sometimes swell dramatically, which can pose dangers to communications, global positioning system satellites and human spaceflight activities.
The Van Allen Probes will spend two years orbiting through every part of both Van Allen belts.