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SwRI to lead NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, will provide innovative science instrument

San Antonio–May 10, 2005–NASA has selected Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) to lead its Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) science mission to explore the plasma processes that govern the interaction of the Earth's magnetic field with the solar wind. Similar processes occur throughout the universe and are fundamental to researchers' understanding of astrophysical and solar system plasmas.

"MMS will use four identical spacecraft, variably spaced in orbit, to make three-dimensional measurements of magnetospheric boundary regions and the process of magnetic reconnection that occurs there," says Principal Investigator Dr. James L. Burch, vice president of the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division.

Researchers need a global perspective to understand the complex processes that transport, accelerate and energize plasmas in the magnetosphere. The first truly global measurements began with the 2000 launch of the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) spacecraft, led by SwRI. "MMS will complement the IMAGE concept by providing multi-point measurements in three dimensions, using updated technologies to probe the small-scale processes that drive the global dynamics," says Burch.

The most important of these processes is magnetic reconnection, which explosively converts magnetic field energy to heat and kinetic energy of charged particles. At the Earth, magnetic reconnection energizes the magnetosphere, ultimately causing the aurora and magnetic storms. At the Sun, it causes solar flares and other energetic outbursts. Throughout the universe, it is one of the processes that accelerates high-energy cosmic rays.

SwRI is also providing a new, innovative science instrument for the mission. Institute Scientist Dr. David T. Young is leading the development of the hot plasma composition analyzer (HPCA), which makes very rapid measurements while separating minute amounts of oxygen ions from the dominant plasma population found throughout the Earth's magnetosphere. The instrument will measure the density, velocity and temperature of all ion species in the plasma with unprecedented accuracy while requiring minimal mass and power. SwRI applied internal research funds for the development of HPCA. SwRI will also provide the central instrument data processor for the spacecraft.

For this mission, SwRI is partnering with the University of New Hampshire, the Goddard Space Flight Center, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the Austrian Academy of Sciences. A number of U.S. and international scientists from other universities and institutions are also participating. The science payload and analysis of its data are expected to cost $140 million. Launch of the $700 million mission is scheduled for July 2013.

The Goddard Space Flight Center will manage MMS for the NASA Science Mission Directorate.

Editors: An image to accompany this story is available at http://www.swri.org/press/2005/mms.htm.

For more information, contact Maria Stothoff, Communications Department, (210) 522-2256, Southwest Research Institute, PO Drawer 28510, San Antonio, TX 78228-0510.

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