Launch Of First Space Mission To Study Magnetic Reconnection

The science community is enthusiastic for the launch of the spacecraft of NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission. Final preparations are now underway for the first space mission committed to the study of magnetic reconnection.

According to Heliophysics division director, Dr. Michael Hesse, the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission or MMS is a mission consisting of four spacecraft, which will fly in close constellation to measure a process called magnetic reconnection – the breaking and reconnecting of oppositely directed magnetic field lines in plasma. As this happens, magnetic field energy is converted to plasma kinetic and thermal energy and this phenomenon can be thought of as some kind of magnetic explosion.

The Magnetic Multiscale Mission will enable the scientists to know more about these magnetic reconnection and magnetic explosions, which are significant drivers in space weather events that affect modern technological systems like communication satellites, electrical power grids and GPS navigation. To provide scientists with in-depth knowledge about these phenomena, the MMS will take measurements in Earth’s own magnetosphere and make up-close observations of the magnetic reconnection. The four spacecraft, for example, will surround the region where explosions most likely occur, providing observations in various spacial dimensions.

MMS has two orbital phases to study reconnection. On the first phase, it will assess reconnection sites at various locations on the sun side of the Earth. Then, during the second phase, which is the tail reconnection campaign, MMS will observe reconnections on the night side of the Earth. The instruments that will be used for this mission are designed to measure the space environment faster than the previous missions and will take only less than a second to measure particles in space.

At a press briefing on February 25, 2015, scientists and engineers have discussed the significance of MMS, the science of magnetic reconnection, the challenges of the mission and the excitement of the science community at the launch of the mission, which will be managed by the Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The takeoff is set on 10:44 p.m. EDT Thursday, March 12 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The spacecraft will begin operations in September.

MMS project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Craig Tooley, said that MMS engineers have completed final observatory closeout procedures and are pending for transport to the launch pad for integration with the Atlas rocket. MMS is headed by Goddard, which also built, integrated and tested the four spacecraft. Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) leads the MMS Instrument Suite Science Team. In addition, MMS Mission Operations Center is assigned in the control and operation of the spacecraft while the planning and instrument command sequence development are performed at the MMS Science Operations Center at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder.

“MMS is a crucial next step in advancing the science of magnetic reconnection. Studying magnetic reconnection near Earth will unlock the ability to understand how this process works throughout the entire universe.” said Jim Burch, principal investigator of the MMS instrument suite science team at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas. He noted that this is the perfect time for the said mission.