How 4 NASA Satellites Will Study Magnetic Fields of Earth & Sun (Infographic)
A constellation of four satellites orbit through Earth's magnetic field to study the mysterious phenomenon called magnetic reconnection.
Credit: By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist

NASA's Magnetic Multiscale mission, or MMS, consists of a fleet of four identical satellites studies three phenomena in Earth’s magnetosphere: magnetic reconnection, energetic particle acceleration, and turbulence. These processes occur everywhere in the universe but can only be effectively studied close to Earth.

Satellite Quartet: NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission in Pictures

Magnetic reconnection happens when lines of magnetic force cross, cancel and reconnect.

This releases magnetic energy in the form of heat and charged particles, causing solar flares on the sun and magnetic storms and auroras on Earth.

Each satellite spins at 3 rotations per minute while doing science observations. Deployable booms extend out as much as 197 feet (60 meters) from the spacecraft, each carrying electric-field sensors or magnetometers.

An INSTRUMENT DECK carries 25 sensors to capture the entire sky at once.

A THRUST TUBE supports satellite during launch stresses.

Eight SOLAR PANELS are arranged in a ring so that some will always be facing the sun.

The BOTTOM DECK of the spacecraft has power, control and communications equipment.

A PROPULSION MODULE carries fuel and thrusters.

All four satellites are launched on a single Altas V rocket, and are then deployed one at a time. The four MMS craft fly in a tetrahedral formation in a large elliptical orbit around Earth.

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