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Quick Facts: Magnetospheric MultiScale (MMS)

Magnetospheric MultiScale mission

An artist's rendition shows the MMS as it sweeps through a magnetic reconnection event caused when the solar wind meets Earth's magnetic fields. (Courtesy SwRI)

Mission Introduction

The Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission is a Solar Terrestrial Probes Program mission within NASA’s Heliophysics Division. The MMS mission, consisting of four identically instrumented spacecraft, will use Earth’s magnetosphere as a laboratory to study magnetic reconnection, a fundamental plasma-physical process that taps the energy stored in a magnetic field and converts it—typically explosively—into heat and kinetic energy in the form of charged particle acceleration and large-scale flows of matter.

The four MMS spacecraft will carry identical suites of plasma analyzers, energetic particle detectors, magnetometers, and electric field instruments as well as a device to prevent spacecraft charging from interfering with the highly sensitive measurements. The plasma and fields instruments will measure the ion and electron distributions and the electric and magnetic fields with unprecedented high (millisecond) time resolution and accuracy. These measurements will enable MMS to locate and identify the small (tens of km) and rapidly moving (10—100 km/s) diffusion regions, to determine their size and structure, and to discover the mechanism(s) by which the plasma and the magnetic field become decoupled and the magnetic field is reconfigured. MMS will make the first unambiguous measurements of plasma composition at reconnection sites, while energetic particle detectors will remotely sense the regions where reconnection occurs and determine how reconnection processes produce large numbers of energetic particles.

The four satellites will be launched together on a single launch vehicle and inserted sequentially into Earth orbit. As they explore the dayside and nightside reconnection regions, the spacecraft will fly in a tetrahedral (pyramid) formation, allowing them to capture the three-dimensional structure of the reconnection sites they encounter. Onboard propulsion will be used to adjust the separation among the spacecraft, from hundreds of kilometers to as close as 10 kilometers to achieve the optimum interspacecraft separation for probing the diffusion region.

The overarching goal of the MMS mission is to measure the plasma and the electric and magnetic fields inside the diffusion regions in Earth’s magnetosphere in order to answer the following fundamental questions:

  • What conditions determine when reconnection is initiated and when it ceases?
  • What determines the rate at which reconnection occurs?
  • What is the structure of the diffusion region?
  • How do the plasma and magnetic fields become decoupled in the diffusion region? In particular, what role do the electrons play in facilitating reconnection?
  • What is the role of turbulence in the reconnection process?
  • How does reconnection accelerate particles to high energies?

LASP Roles

  • LASP will serve as the mission Science Operations Center (SOC), which includes science operations planning, instrument command sequence development, and science analysis support
  • Science data for all MMS measurements will be hosted at LASP and centrally disseminated to the science community
  • LASP Director, Dan Baker, will serve as the SMART (Solving Magnetospheric Acceleration, Reconnection, and Turbulence) Science Operations Center Lead

LASP Instruments

LASP is building several key components to the MMS FIELDS investigation instruments. This includes the door and preamplifier assemblies for the Spin-plane Double Probe (SDP) electric field instrument, the Axial Double Probe (ADP) electric field instrument including booms, sensors, and preamplifiers, and the Digital Signal Processor (DSP) electronics that will support onboard capture and processing of the ADP, SDP, and Search Coil Magnetometer (SCM) electric and magnetic field measurements.

Quick Facts

Launch date: August 2014
Launch location: Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida
Launch vehicle: Atlas V-421
Mission target: Earth orbit
Mission duration: 2 years + 6 months
Other organizations involved:

  • NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Southwest Research Institute
  • University of New Hampshire
  • Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
  • Rice University
  • Austrian Academy of Sciences