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NASA

NASA’s first space mission dedicated to the study of magnetic reconnection will begin when the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft is launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 12.

The process of magnetic reconnection takes place throughout the universe where magnetic fields connect and disconnect with an explosive release of energy.

According to Jeff Newmark, interim director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA, “Magnetic reconnection is one of the most important drivers of space weather events. 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 spacecraft will begin science operations in September. The mission will have sufficient resolution to measure the characteristics of ongoing reconnection events as they occur.

The mission includes four identical space observatories that will offer the first three-dimensional view of magnetic reconnection. Key sensors on each spacecraft will measure the space environment as the observatories fly through reconnection regions in a tight formation. The sensors will have to measure the space environment at rates faster than any previous mission.

The mission will observe reconnection directly in Earth’s protective magnetic space environment known as the magnetosphere. By studying reconnection MMS will assist us in understanding reconnection elsewhere in the universe including the atmosphere of the sun, the vicinity of black holes and neutron stars, and the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space.

Goddard constructed, integrated and tested the spacecraft and will be leading the mission. The MMS Science Operations Center at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder will direct science operations planning and instrument command sequence development.

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