CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Final preparations are underway for the launch of NASA's quartet of Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft, which constitutes the first space mission dedicated to the study of magnetic reconnection.
This fundamental process occurs throughout the universe where magnetic fields connect and disconnect with an explosive release of energy.
"Magnetic reconnection is one of the most important drivers of space weather events," said Jeff Newmark, interim director of the heliophysics division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
"Eruptive solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and geomagnetic storms all involve the release, through reconnection, of energy stored in magnetic fields. Space weather events can affect modern technological systems such as communications networks, GPS navigation, and electrical power grids."
The launch of MMS, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, will be managed by the launch services program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff is targeted for 10:44 p.m. Thursday, March 12 from space launch complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The spacecraft will begin science operations in September. The mission consists of four identical space observatories that will provide the first three-dimensional view of magnetic reconnection.
Because the observatories will fly through reconnection regions in a tight formation, in less than a second, key sensors on each spacecraft are designed to measure the space environment at rates faster than any previous mission.
The mission observes reconnection directly in Earth's protective magnetic space environment known as the magnetosphere.
By studying reconnection in this local, natural laboratory, MMS helps us understand reconnection elsewhere, such as the atmosphere of the sun, the vicinity of black holes and neutron stars, and the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space.