UNH Receives $38 Million
For NASA Sun-Earth Mission
Contact: David Sims
Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space
June 1, 2005
Editors: An official kick-off celebration of the MMS mission
will occur Monday, June 6, at 2 p.m. in the second floor atrium
of Morse Hall. Roy Torbert will provide an overview of the mission,
and he and others involved in the mission will be available to answer
DURHAM, N.H. – The University of New Hampshire has received
the largest, single research award in the history of the institution
– $38 million from NASA to build instruments for the space
agency’s Magnetospheric MultiScale (MMS) mission. As part
of an international team from 12 institutes, space scientists at
UNH’s Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space
(EOS) will construct instruments for MMS’ four identical solar-terrestrial
probes, which will study little understood, fundamental processes
in the Earth’s magnetosphere – the magnetic shield that
protects the Earth from solar and cosmic radiation.
Over the next eight years, UNH scientists, engineers, graduate and
undergraduate students will help construct two Electron Drift Instruments,
(EDI) for each of the four spacecraft. EDI is designed to measure
electric fields and electron drifts using a controlled beam of electrons.
In addition, UNH will construct the central electronic controls
for all the instruments being built to measure the spectrum of electromagnetic
fields around the spacecraft. This “FIELDS” instrument
suite will be comprised of six sensors per spacecraft.
“The expertise of the UNH Space Science Center in space instrumentation
was critical to forming our excellent international FIELDS team
on MMS, which will contribute many of the new observations for this
exciting mission,” says physics professor Roy Torbert, director
of the EOS Space Science Center and UNH’s principal investigator
for the mission.
James L. Burch of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio,
Texas, is leading construction of the mission’s $140 million
instrument suite. The MMS spacecraft are slated to launch aboard
an 86-foot, 225,000-pound Delta II rocket in July 2013.
The mission is designed to explore the plasma processes that govern
the interaction of the Earth’s magnetic field with the highly
charged solar wind. Plasma is a highly ionized gas sometimes described
as the “fourth state of matter.” Plasmas occupy 99 percent
of the observable universe. However, only in the Earth’s magnetosphere
– a multilayered, comet-shaped magnetic shield that, in its
tail, extends as far as 60,000 kilometers away – are these
important plasma processes readily accessible for sustained study
through in situ measurements.
One of those processes is magnetic reconnection, in which magnetic
fields reconfigure themselves and release energy. Reconnection,
a main focus of the MMS mission, is the basic mechanism by which
energy from the sun and the solar wind is transferred into the Earth’s
magnetospheric system. Reconnection is widely believed to play a
crucial role in space and astrophysical phenomena such as magnetospheric
substorms and solar flares. It is a crucial process to understand
in order to be able to predict “space weather” conditions.
For example, a blast of this energy from substorms or solar flares
can affect satellites, Earth-based instruments and power grids,
shower astronauts and aircraft flying over the Earth’s poles
with deadly radiation, and light up the sky with aurora.
“In a sense, MMS represents a culmination of the extensive
work done in space science at the university,” Torbert says.
“It is based on previous successful NASA and European Space
Agency missions in which UNH has participated, such as the CLUSTER,
SOHO, ACE, WIND, and POLAR satellites, as well as our theoretical
and numerical simulation work, where the process of reconnection
has been observed and simulated, but never studied as rigorously
as will be done on MMS.”
Other plasma processes that MMS will study include charged particle
acceleration, and turbulence in key boundary regions of the Earth’s
magnetosphere. Along with magnetic reconnection, these processes
control the flow of energy, mass, and momentum within and across
plasma boundaries, occur throughout the universe, and are fundamental
to our understanding of astrophysical and solar system plasmas.
Despite four decades of study, beginning with the early Sputnik
and Explorer spacecraft, much about the operation of these processes
remains unknown or poorly understood. MMS and its multiple spacecraft
approach will provide a much more detailed picture of the region.
Each of the four satellites, flying together as a tightly coordinated
fleet through the magnetosphere, will carry identical instruments
and will thus be able to gather a multi-dimensional view of these
processes that have eluded previous studies.
Along with UNH, co-investigators include the NASA Goddard Space
Flight Center, the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University,
the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the French Center for Terrestrial
and Planetary Environments, the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology,
the Technical University of Braunschweig, the University of California
at Los Angeles, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the University