How 4 NASA Satellites Will Study Magnetic Fields of Earth & Sun (Infographic)

Facts about the Magnetic Multiscale Mission.
A constellation of four satellites orbit through Earth's magnetic field to study the mysterious phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. (Image 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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Karl Tate contributor

Karl's association with goes back to 2000, when he was hired to produce interactive Flash graphics. From 2010 to 2016, Karl worked as an infographics specialist across all editorial properties of Purch (formerly known as TechMediaNetwork).  Before joining, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web.  He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University and now works as a freelance graphic designer in New York City.