NASA, in its effort to better understand space weather and its implications, has scheduled another mission to the Earth’s magnetosphere set to be launched next month. NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission will simultaneously blast off four identical weather spacecrafts into the area in outer space directly controlled by earth’s magnetic force.
Model of the MMS Spacecraft
The mission was designed to obtain a better grasp of how space weather, such as solar flares and geomagnetic storms, interact with the earth’s atmosphere, specifically “how the magnetic fields on Earth connect and disconnect”, as stated on the MMS Mission Statement on the NASA website.
The four identically-equipped satellites are meant to provide three-dimensional images of the said magnetic reconnection process, which happens all over the universe but is easiest to observe from the MMS spacecraft’s intended destination. This fundamental connection and disconnection process will provide NASA scientists with data that will help assimilate the behavior of these magnetic waves in the atmosphere of other astral bodies, such as the sun and the stars, resulting in different reactions in space weather. This will then provide us with a better understanding of how solar flares and other space weather phenomena occur.
One of the best known effects of space weather is that these flares increase ultraviolet radiation, which can hinder and harm the propagation and development of life on earth. Aside from this, space weather reactions have also been known to affect our grid systems, causing power outages and interruptions, such as in such as the famous 1989 Quebec outage. These bursts in solar energy have also been known to affect our telecommunications systems.
Though these phenomena may have disruptive effects, another effect that might be deemed more positive by others, such as those in photography and travel, is the enhancement of the earth’s auroras during these spikes in space weather. Whether because of the positive or negative effects, the MMS mission aims to be able to predict these occurrences to improve preparatory measures.
Aside from understanding atmospheric reactions to these magnetic processes in the Earth’s immediate space, the MMS mission will also help gather more data on these processes in the areas of black holes (spaces with extremely strong gravitational pulls), as well as those of neutron stars (remnants of collapsed massive stars after a supernova).
The MMS mission is the first of its kind to dedicate spacecraft to study these magnetic interactions in outer space. It will also be the faster than previous missions in gathering data. The spacecraft is programmed to stay in a tight-knit formation and fly through these magnetic reconnection areas, allowing its computers and key sensors to gather important data about space measurements in less than one second.
The launch is scheduled for next month, on March 12, 2015 at 10:44 PM EDT. Liftoff will occur at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41. The mission will be headed by the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenville, Maryland, and will be the third science mission to be launched by NASA this year.
NASA has also scheduled a media conference in the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida, later today to help the media better disseminate information on the upcoming space mission.