At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, a team of scientists and engineers are working on crucial elements of the MMS instrument suite.
it’s a giant solar flare or a beautiful green-blue aurora, just about
everything interesting in space weather happens due to a phenomenon
called magnetic reconnection. Reconnection occurs when magnetic field
lines cross and create a burst of energy. These bursts can be so
energetic they could be measured in megatons of TNT. To study this
phenomenon, NASA is readying a fleet of four identical spacecraft, the
Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission, for a planned launch in 2014.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., a team of
scientists and engineers are working on a crucial element of the MMS
instrument suite: the Fast Plasma Instrument (FPI). Some 100 times
faster than any previous similar instrument, the FPI will collect a full
sky map of data at the rate of 30 times per second—a necessary speed
given that MMS will only travel through the reconnection site for under a
flying by a tiny object on an airplane very rapidly,” says Craig
Pollock, the Co-Investigator for FPI at Goddard. “You want to capture a
good picture of it, but you don’t get to just walk around it and take
your time snapping photos from different angles. You have to grab quick
shots as you’re passing. That’s the challenge.”
is being assembled at Goddard, from sub-assemblies built there, at the
Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, and at the Meisei
Electric Company, Ltd. in Isasaki Japan. FPI sensors are being tested at
Goddard, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and
at Japan’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science near Tokyo.
the last week of March, 2012, researchers from all four teams came
together at the Low Energy Electron and Ion Facility (LEEIF) at the
National Space Science and Technology Center in Huntsville to test part
of the FPI: the Dual Ion Spectrometer (DIS) flight sensors built at
Mesei. The tests focused on the instrument’s response when exposed to
the space environment.
the LEEIF facility, scientists and engineers expose the Dual Ion
Spectrometer to ion beams of specific energy from specific directions to
determine the response. This known response will be used to calibrate
the flight data. Each of the MMS spacecraft will need four
spectrometers, so there are 16 DIS instruments total. They will be
paired with 16 Dual Electron Spectrometers (DES) and six Instrument Data
Processing Units (IDPUs) that are being built at Goddard to complete
the full FPI.
manages the MMS mission. Dr. James L. Burch at Southwest Research
Institute is the principal investigator for the MMS science
investigation. Marshall is a Co-Investigator institution and part of the