Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission

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Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission
Mission logo
Mission logo
Operator NASA
Mission type Magnetosphere
Launch date March 2015 (planned)
Satellite of Earth
Orbital elements
Inclination 28.0°
Apoapsis 12 R, 76,400 km (47,500 mi)[1]
Periapsis 1.2 R, 7,640 km (4,750 mi)[1]

The Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) is a planned NASA unmanned space mission, to study the Earth's magnetosphere using four identical spacecraft flying in a tetrahedral formation.[2] It is scheduled for launch March 2015.[3] It is designed to gather information about the microphysics of magnetic reconnection, energetic particle acceleration, and turbulence, processes that occur in many astrophysical plasmas.[4]


The mission builds upon the successes of the ESA Cluster Mission, but will surpass it in spatial resolution and in temporal resolution, allowing for the first time measurements of the critical electron diffusion region, the site where magnetic reconnection occurs. Its orbit is optimized to spend extended periods in locations where reconnection is known to occur: at the dayside magnetopause—the place where the pressure from the solar wind and the planets' magnetic field are equal—and in the magnetotail—which is formed by pressure from the solar wind on a planet's magnetosphere and which can extend great distances away from its originating planet.

Magnetic reconnection in Earth's magnetosphere is one of the mechanisms responsible for the aurora, and it is important to the science of controlled nuclear fusion because it is one mechanism preventing magnetic confinement of the fusion fuel. The study of turbulence in outer space involves the measurement of motions of matter in stellar atmospheres, like that of the Sun, and magnetic reconnection is a phenomenon in which energy is efficiently transferred from a magnetic field to charged particles.[5]

Personnel and purpose[edit]

The principal investigator is James L. Burch of Southwest Research Institute, assisted by an international team of investigators, both instrument leads and theory and modeling experts.[6] The Project Scientist is Thomas E. Moore of Goddard Space Flight Center.[7] Education and public outreach is a key aspect of the mission, with student activities, data sonification, and planetarium shows being developed.

The mission was selected for support by NASA in 2005. System engineering, spacecraft bus design, integration and testing has been performed by Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Instrumentation is being improved, with extensive experience brought in from other projects, such as the IMAGE, Cluster and Cassini missions. In June 2009, MMS was allowed to proceed to Phase C, since they passed their Preliminary Design Review. The mission passed its Critical Design Review in September 2010.[8] The spacecraft will launch on an Atlas V 421 rocket,[9] scheduled for March 2015.[10][11]

Formation flying[edit]

In order to collect the desired science data, the four satellite MMS constellation must maintain a tetrahedral formation through a defined region of interest in a highly elliptical orbit. The formation will be maintained through the use of a next generation space rated GPS receiver, Navigator, to provide orbit knowledge, and regular formation maintenance maneuvers.


  1. ^ a b Chung, Lauren R.; Novak, Stefan; Long, Anne; Gramling, Cheryl (2009). Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) Mission Commissioning Phase Orbit Determination Error Analysis. 2009 AAS/AIAA Astrodynamics Specialist Conference. 9-13 August 2009. Pittsburgh, PA. AAS 09-325. 
  2. ^ "MMS Spacecraft and Instruments". NASA. 
  3. ^ "MMS Launch". NASA. 
  4. ^ Lewis, W. S. "MMS-SMART: Quick Facts". Southwest Research Institute. Retrieved 5 August 2009. 
  5. ^ Vaivads, Andris; Retinò, Alessandro; André, Mats (February 2006). "Microphysics of Magnetic Reconnection". Space Science Reviews (Kluwer Academic Publishers) 122 (1-4): 19–27. doi:10.1007/s11214-006-7019-3. 
  6. ^ "The SMART Team". Southwest Research Institute. Retrieved 28 September 2012. 
  7. ^ Fox, Karen C.; Moore, Tom (1 October 2010). "Q&A: Missions, Meetings, and the Radial Tire Model of the Magnetosphere". Retrieved 28 September 2012. 
  8. ^ Hendrix, Susan (3 September 2010). "NASA's Magnetospheric Mission Passes Major Milestone". Retrieved 28 September 2012. 
  9. ^ "United Launch Alliance Atlas V Awarded Four NASA Rocket Launch Missions" (Press release). United Launch Alliance. 16 March 2009. Retrieved 5 August 2009. 
  10. ^ "MMS Launch". NASA. 14 May 2014. Retrieved 26 September 2014. 
  11. ^ Werner, Debra (19 December 2011). "Spending Lags Growing Recognition of Heliophysics' Contribution". Space News. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 

External links[edit]