NASA's Magnetospheric Mission Passes Major Milestone

Sep 06, 2010 by Susan Hendrix
Artist conception of the four Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft investigating magnetic reconnection within Earth's magnetic field (magnetosphere). Credit: Southwest Research Institute

(PhysOrg.com) -- The universe is still an arcane place that scientists know very little about, but a new NASA Solar Terrestrial Probe mission is going to shed light on one especially mysterious event called magnetic reconnection. It occurs when magnetic lines of force cross, cancel, and reconnect releasing magnetic energy in the form of heat and charged-particle kinetic energy.

On the sun, causes more powerful than several atomic bombs combined. In Earth's atmosphere, magnetic reconnection dispenses magnetic storms and auroras, and in laboratories on Earth it can cause big problems in fusion reactors.

Although the study of magnetic reconnection dates back to the 1950s and despite numerous scientific papers addressing this perplexing issue, scientists still cannot agree on one accepted model.

In 2014, NASA is scheduled to launch a satellite that will greatly increase our understanding of this phenomenon when it launches the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission, a suite of four identical spacecraft that will study magnetic reconnection in the best possible laboratory - the Earth’s magnetosphere. The spacecraft will obtain measurements necessary to test prevailing theories as to how reconnection is enabled and how it progresses.

Recently, NASA and members of an independent review board painstakingly reviewed every aspect of the MMS mission, and successfully completed the mission’s critical design review. This technical review is held to ensure that a mission can proceed into fabrication, demonstration and test and can meet stated performance requirements, including cost, schedule, risk and other system constraints.

According to MMS deputy project scientist Mark Adrian of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., “This is the last hurdle before the spacecraft and instrument teams begin to build actual flight hardware.”

MMS was approved for implementation in June 2009 following a successful Preliminary Design Review in May 2009.

Dr. James L. Burch of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, will lead the MMS science team. According to Burch, “Magnetic reconnection is a fundamental physical process that occurs throughout the universe,” says Burch. “MMS will enable us to study this dynamic process in the near-Earth space environment, where it transfers energy from the solar wind to the magnetosphere and drives disturbances known as space weather.”

Goddard is the lead Center for the mission. Engineers there will perform the required environmental testing, build the spacecraft and integrate all four sets of instruments into the MMS satellites, support launch vehicle integration and operations, and develop the Mission Operations Center which to monitor and control the spacecraft.

MMS will carry identical suites of plasma analyzers, energetic particle detectors, magnetometers, and electric field instruments as well as a device to prevent spacecraft charging from interfering with the highly sensitive measurements required in and around the diffusion regions.

Scientists and engineers at Goddard have designed and will build one of the instruments - the Fast Plasma Instrument, which will measure the ion and electron distributions and the electric and magnetic fields with unprecedentedly high millisecond time resolution and accuracy.

Currently, MMS is scheduled to launch in August 2014 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL aboard an Atlas V rocket.

Explore further: PanSTARRS K1, the comet that keeps going

More information: stp.gsfc.nasa.gov/missions/mms/mms.htm

Related Stories

Honey, I Blew up the Tokamak

Aug 31, 2009

Magnetic reconnection could be the Universe's favorite way to make things explode. It operates anywhere magnetic fields pervade space--which is to say almost everywhere. On the sun magnetic reconnection causes ...

NASA Satellites Discover What Powers Northern Lights

Jul 24, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers using a fleet of five NASA satellites have discovered that explosions of magnetic energy a third of the way to the moon power substorms that cause sudden brightenings and rapid movements of the ...

Recommended for you

US-India to collaborate on Mars exploration

6 hours ago

The United States and India, fresh from sending their own respective spacecraft into Mars' orbit earlier this month, on Tuesday agreed to cooperate on future exploration of the Red Planet.

Swift mission observes mega flares from a mini star

6 hours ago

On April 23, NASA's Swift satellite detected the strongest, hottest, and longest-lasting sequence of stellar flares ever seen from a nearby red dwarf star. The initial blast from this record-setting series ...

Sandblasting winds shift Mars' landscape

11 hours ago

High winds are a near-daily force on the surface of Mars, carving out a landscape of shifting dunes and posing a challenge to exploration, scientists said Tuesday.

PanSTARRS K1, the comet that keeps going

14 hours ago

Thank you K1 PanSTARRS for hanging in there! Some comets crumble and fade away. Others linger a few months and move on. But after looping across the night sky for more than a year, this one is nowhere near ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

sender
1 / 5 (2) Sep 07, 2010
cant wait to utilize this space weather for energy systems at home where we need it the most to combat climate change, suppose space offers us a resource too good to be true.