In March of 2015, an unprecedented NASA mission will launch to study a process so mysterious that no one has ever directly measured in space. To create the first-ever 3-dimensional maps of this process, a process called magnetic reconnection, which occurs all over the universe, the Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission uses four separate spacecraft equipped with ultra high speed instruments.
Launching four satellites into space simultaneously is a complicated process. In addition, each spacecraft has several booms that will unfold and extend in space once on orbit. A launch and deployment with so many moving parts is meticulously planned.
Watch the video to get a sneak preview of how MMS will make this journey: The four spacecraft are housed in a single rocket on their trip into space. One by one, each ejects out, before moving into a giant pyramid-shaped configuration. Next each spacecraft deploys its booms.
Once in orbit, MMS will fly through regions near Earth where this little-understood process of magnetic reconnection occurs. Magnetic reconnection happens in thin layers just miles thick, but can tap into enough power at times to create gigantic explosions many times the size of Earth.
Reconnection happens when magnetic field lines explosively realign and release massive bursts of energy, while hurling particles out at nearly the speed of light in all directions. Magnetic reconnection powers eruptions on the sun and – closer to home – it triggers the flow of material and energy from interplanetary space into near-Earth space. The MMS orbit will carry the four spacecraft through reconnection regions near Earth, using this nearby natural laboratory to better understand how reconnection occurs everywhere in space.