Spacecraft must go through a series of rigorous tests before they are launched into space. NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission is undergoing those tests now in preparation for a late 2014 launch. The testing schedule is all the more complicated as the mission consists of four identical observatories. This picture from July 26, 2013, shows two of the four observatories stacked up for testing to make sure they can withstand the harsh shock of a rocket launch.
The gold ring between the observatories is one of three that will be used when all four spacecraft are stacked in the fairing for launch. Once in orbit, the separation systems will fire, and the four observatories will move into the pyramid formation necessary for the mission.
MMS will investigate how the sun and Earth's magnetic fields connect and disconnect, explosively transferring energy from one to the other – a fundamental physical process that occurs throughout the universe, known as magnetic reconnection. MMS will orbit in Earth’s magnetic environment where magnetic reconnection enables material and energy from the sun to funnel into near-Earth space. This changes the shape and intensity of Earth’s magnetic fields, causing a variety of events from aurora to geomagnetic storms, which among other things can induce damage in power grids on the ground. By using four spacecraft, the observatories will be able to track how magnetic reconnection moves and changes throughout space.
Date: Aug 7, 2013