Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan

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MMS spacecraft in launch configuration

Posted: April 24, 2014

MMS spacecraft in launch configuration

The four observatories for NASA's Magnetospheric Multi-Scale (MMS) mission have been stacked in launch configuration for the first time at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The mission’s science goal is to collect the first direct in situ measurements of magnetic field annihilation in the Earth's near-space environment. Professors Jim Slavin and Tamas Gombosi are both science investigators on the mission.

The observatories will be launched and fly together in a tetrahedral formation with inter-spacecraft separations of only a few tens of the kilometers with the goal making measurements within diffusion regions perhaps once per day over the several year mission.

The Earth possesses a strong magnetic field generated deep within its interior. Charged particle radiation emanating from the Sun interacts strongly with the Earth's magnetic field. This interaction causes the geomagnetic fields at high altitudes to intensify and store large amounts of energy derived from the charged particles flowing away from the Sun.

This energy is often released suddenly once the magnetic fields begin to annihilate spontaneously in very small volumes, only ~ 10 to 50 km on a side, called diffusion regions. These explosive releases of energy drive magnetospheric storms and substorms at Earth and solar flares on the Sun and more distant stars.

However, the source of the micro-scale electrical resistivity allowing magnetic field annihilation is a mystery that can only be solved through the collection of very high rate magnetic and electric field and charged particle measurements within these diffusion regions. The MMS mission will work towards collecting those measurements.

Launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida is scheduled for early next year.

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