Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission
Mission type Magnetosphere research
Operator NASA
Mission duration Planned: 2 years, 5.5 months[1]
Elapsed: 10 months and 8 days
Spacecraft properties
Manufacturer Goddard Space Flight Center
Launch mass 1,360 kg (2,998 lb)[1]
Dimensions Stowed: 3.4 × 1.2 m (11 × 4 ft)[1]
Deployed: 112 × 29 m (369 × 94 ft)[1]
Start of mission
Launch date 13 March 2015, 02:44 (2015-03-13T02:44Z) UTC
Rocket Atlas V 421
Launch site CCAFS SLC-41, Cape Canaveral, FL
Contractor United Launch Alliance
Orbital parameters
Reference system Geocentric
Regime Highly elliptical
Perigee 2,550 km (1,580 mi)[1]
Apogee Day phase: 70,080 km (43,550 mi)[1]
Night phase: 152,900 km (95,000 mi)[1]
Inclination 28.0°

The Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) is a NASA unmanned space mission to study the Earth's magnetosphere, using four identical spacecraft flying in a tetrahedral formation.[2] The spacecraft were launched on 13 March 2015 at 02:44 UTC.[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]


MMS mission overview video

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]


The MMS mission consists of four spacecraft. Each has a launch mass of 1,360 kg (2,998 lb).[1] In their stowed launch configuration, each are approximately 3.4 by 1.2 m (11 by 4 ft), and when stacked together they have a total height of 4.9 m (16 ft).[1] After being deployed in orbit, a total of eight axial and wire booms are deployed, increasing vehicle size to 112 by 29 m (369 by 94 ft).[1]

The MMS spacecraft are spin stabilized, turning at a rate of three revolutions per minute to maintain orientation. Each spacecraft contains 12 thrusters connected to four hydrazine fuel tanks. Position data is provided by highly sensitive GPS equipment, while attitude is maintained by four star trackers, two accelerometers, and two sun sensors.[1]

Each spacecraft carries several experiments, divided into three suites: the Hot Plasma Suite, the Energetic Particles Detector Suite, and the Fields Suite.

The Hot Plasma Suite measures plasma particle counts, directions, and energies during reconnection. It consists of two experiments:

  • The Fast Plasma Investigation (FPI) is a set of four dual electron spectrometers and four dual ion spectrometers.
  • The Hot Plasma Composition Analyzer (HPCA) detects particle speed in order to determine its mass and type.

The Energetic Particles Detector Suite detects particles at energies far exceeding those detected by the Hot Plasma Suite. It consists of two instruments:

  • The Fly's Eye Energetic Particle Sensor (FEEPS) is a set of silicon solid state detectors to measure electron energy. Between two FEEPS per spacecraft, the individual detectors are arranged to provide 18 different view angles simultaneously- hence the term “fly’s eye”.
  • Energetic Ion Spectrometer (EIS) measures energy and total velocity of detected ions in order to determine their mass. The EIS can detect helium and oxygen ions at energies higher than that of the HPCA.

The Fields Suite measures magnetic and electric field characteristics. It consists of six instruments:

  • the Analog Fluxgate magnetometer determines the strength of magnetic fields.
  • the Digital Fluxgate magnetometer also determines the strength of magnetic fields.
  • the Electron Drift Instrument measures electric and magnetic field strength by sending a beam of electrons into space and measuring how long it takes the electrons to circle back in the presence of these fields.
  • the Spin-plane Double Probe consists of electrodes on the end of four 200-ft wires booms that extend from the spacecraft to measure electric fields.
  • the Axial Double Probe is a set of electrodes on two 30-ft antennas mounted axially on the spacecraft.
  • the Search Coil Magnetometer is an induction magnetometer used to measure magnetic fields.[6]

The mission is broken into three phases. The commissioning phase will last approximately five and a half months after launch, while the science phases will last two years. The first science phase will focus on the magnetic boundary between the Earth and Sun (day side operations) for one and a half years, with the spacecraft formation orbiting the Earth at 2,550 by 70,080 km (1,580 by 43,550 mi). The second science phase will study reconnection in Earth's magnetic tail (night side operations) for half a year, increasing the orbit to 2,550 by 152,900 km (1,580 by 95,010 mi).[1]

Personnel and purpose

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.[7] The Project Scientist is Thomas E. Moore of Goddard Space Flight Center.[8] 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, having passed a Preliminary Design Review. The mission passed its Critical Design Review in September 2010.[9] The spacecraft launched on an Atlas V 421 rocket,[10] in March 2015.[3][11]

Formation flying

This movie illustrates two orbits of the four MMS spacecraft.

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 high altitude rated GPS receiver, Navigator, to provide orbit knowledge, and regular formation maintenance maneuvers.


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  6. ^ “Instruments Aboard MMS.” ‘’NASA: Magnetospheric MultiScale’’. Retrieved: 20 April 2015.
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External links

  • Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission site by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission site by NASA's Mission Directorate
  • Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission site by Southwest Research Institute
  • Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission site by Rice University
  • Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission's channel on YouTube