Solar Maximum Mission

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Solar Maximum Mission
Mission type Solar physics
Operator NASA
COSPAR ID 1980-014A
SATCAT № 11703
Mission duration 9 years
Spacecraft properties
Bus Multimission Modular Spacecraft
Manufacturer Fairchild Industries
Launch mass 2,315.0 kilograms (5,103.7 lb)
Dimensions ~4 by 2.3 metres (13.1 by 7.5 ft)
Start of mission
Launch date February 14, 1980, 15:57:00 (1980-02-14UTC15:57Z) UTC
Rocket Delta 3910
Launch site Cape Canaveral Air Force Station LC-17A
End of mission
Decay date December 2, 1989 (1989-12-03)
Orbital parameters
Reference system Geocentric
Regime Low Earth
Eccentricity 0.00029
Perigee 508.0 kilometers (315.7 mi)
Apogee 512.0 kilometers (318.1 mi)
Inclination 28.5 degrees
Period 94.80 minutes
Mean motion 15.19
Astronaut George Nelson attempts to capture the Solar Maximum Mission satellite during STS-41-C

The Solar Maximum Mission satellite (or SolarMax) was designed to investigate Solar phenomena, particularly solar flares. It was launched on February 14, 1980. The SMM was the first satellite based on the Multimission Modular Spacecraft bus manufactured by Fairchild Industries, a platform which was later used for Landsats 4 and 5[1] as well as the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite.

In November 1980, the second of four fuses in SMM's attitude control system failed, causing it to rely on its magnetorquers in order to maintain attitude. In this mode, only three of the seven instruments onboard were usable, as the others required the satellite to be accurately pointed at the Sun. The use of the satellite's magnetorquers prevented the satellite from being used in a stable position and caused it to "wobble" around its nominally sun-pointed attitude.[2]

The first orbiting, unmanned satellite to be repaired in space, SMM was notable in that its useful life compared with similar spacecraft was significantly increased by the direct intervention of a manned space mission. During STS-41-C in 1984, the Space Shuttle Challenger rendezvoused with the SMM, maneuvering it into the shuttle's payload bay for maintenance and repairs. SMM had been fitted with a shuttle "grapple fixture" so that the shuttle's robot arm could grab it for repair. During the mission, the SMM's entire attitude control system module and the electronics module for the coronagraph/polarimeter instrument were replaced, and a gas cover was installed over the X-ray polychromator.[3] The mission was depicted in the 1985 IMAX movie The Dream Is Alive.

The Solar Maximum Mission ended on December 2, 1989, when the spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere and burned up.


Experiments on board the Solar Maximum Mission
Name Target Principal Investigator
Coronagraph/Polarimeter: 446.5-658.3 nm, 1.5- 6 radii fov, 6.4 arcsec res. Solar corona, prominences, and flares MacQueen, Robert M., High Altitude Observatory
Ultraviolet Spectrometer and polarimeter 175.0-360.0 nm raster imager, 0.004 nm sp.res. Solar UV, Earth's atmosphere Tandberg-Hanssen, Einar A., NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Soft X-ray Polychromator: raster imager, crystal spectrom. in parts of 0.14-2.25 nm Solar flares, active solar regions Acton, Loren W., Lockheed Palo Alto, Culhane, J University College, London, Leonard, Gabriel, Alan-Henri, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Hard X-ray Imaging Spectrometer: fov 6.4 arcmin, 8 or 32 arcsec res, 3.5-30 keV Solar active regions and flares de Jager, Cornelis, University of Utrecht
Hard X-ray Burst Spectrometer: CsI(Na), 15 energy channels covering 20-260 keV Solar flares and active regions Frost, Kenneth J., NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Gamma-ray Spectrometer: NaI(T1),0.01-100 MeV in 476 channels, 16.4 s per spectrum solar gamma-rays Chupp, Edward L, University of New Hampshire
Active Cavity Radiometer Irradiance Monitor: 0.001-1000 micrometer solar flux solar irradiance Willson, Richard C, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory


A coronal transient as seen by the SMM on May 5, 1980

Significantly, the SMM's ACRIM instrument package showed that contrary to expectations, the Sun is actually brighter during the sunspot cycle maximum (when the greatest number of dark 'sunspots' appear). This is because sunspots are surrounded by bright features called faculae, which more than cancel the darkening effect of the sunspot.

The major scientific findings from the SMM are presented in several review articles in a monograph.[4]

The SMM discovered ten sungrazing comets between 1987 and 1989.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Suzuki, Masaharu (11 February 1999). "TOPEX/Poseidon - Description of Mission". University of Texas. Retrieved 9 July 2013. The satellite bus was taken from the Multimission Modular Spacecraft (MMS), which has been proven on previous MMS-based missions: the Solar Maximum Mission and Landsat 4 and 5. 
  2. ^ "STS-41-C Press Kit" (PDF). NASA. Retrieved 9 July 2013. All four of those instruments require pointing accuracy from the spacecraft and could not function effectively with the spacecraft spinning through space with its longitudinal axis pointed toward the sun, as it has since the attitude control system failure. 
  3. ^ "STS-41-C Press Kit" (PDF). NASA. Retrieved 9 July 2013. Repairs to be made during the mission include replacing the attitude control system module, replacing the main electronics box on the Polarimeter/Polarimeter, and placing a cover over the gas vent of the X-Ray Polychrometer. 
  4. ^ Strong KT; Saba JLR; Haisch BM; Schmelz JT, eds. (1999). The many faces of the sun : a summary of the results from NASA's Solar Maximum Mission. New York: Springer. Bibcode:1999mfs..conf.....S. 
  5. ^ "JPL comet catalogue". 

External links[edit]