Lockheed Martin Space Systems Advanced Technology Center (ATC) has completed delivery of hardware subsystems for NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) Mission. The delivery comprised four flight subsystems and one flight spare unit. The prime contractor, Southwest Research Institute (SWRI), partnered with Lockheed Martin to develop and build the Hot Plasma Composition Analyzer (HPCA) as part of the MMS instrument suite.

Artist’s concept of the four Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) Mission spacecraft. (Southwest Research Institute)

When it launches in 2014, the MMS mission will provide unprecedented insights into a little-understood physical process at the heart of all space weather. This process, known as magnetic reconnection, sparks solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and other phenomena that can imperil Earth-orbiting spacecraft and terrestrial power grids. High-resolution data from MMS will provide researchers much greater clarity into the mechanisms involved in magnetic reconnection and associated phenomena.

The MMS mission is a Solar Terrestrial Probes mission comprising four identically instrumented spacecraft that will use Earth’s magnetosphere as a laboratory to study the microphysics of magnetic reconnection and two other fundamental plasma processes: energetic particle acceleration, and turbulence. These processes can be studied in situ only in our solar system, and most efficiently only in Earth’s magnetosphere, where they control the dynamics of the geospace environment and play a significant role in space weather.

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 changing from interfering with the highly sensitive measurements required in and around the diffusion regions. 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 (10s 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 of the MMS mission will be deployed in an orbit to skim the boundary layer between the magnetosphere and the interplanetary magnetic field where magnetic reconnection is known to exist.

The ATC is the research and development organization of Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (LMSSC), and conducts basic research into understanding and predicting space weather and the behavior of the Sun, including its impacts on Earth and climate.

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