The Auroral Multiscale Midex Mission (AMM), a proposal submitted by a team of institutions led by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), has been selected as one of five candidates for NASA's medium-class Explorer (MIDEX) Program, which is designed for physics and astronomy missions in support of NASA's Office of Space Science themes. APL will now receive $350,000 to conduct a four-month implementation feasibility study, which will be presented to NASA in June.
AMM will study the interaction between Earth's atmosphere and its nearby space environment. The mission would involve the placing of a closely-spaced formation of four identical satellites into a near-polar orbit, enabling more accurate measurements of electric currents, auroral features, and other aspects of the interaction.
"Our goal is to achieve comprehensive understanding of how the Earth's space environment -- the magnetosphere -- interacts electrically with the Earth's upper atmosphere and ionosphere to generate the beautifully complex northern and southern auroral lights," explains Dr. Barry H. Mauk, the project leader at APL and a magnetospheric physicist. "Our multiple-satellite, formation-flying approach would provide, for the first time, the tools needed to understand how the magnetosphere generates the electrical currents, how those currents are modified and channeled to the polar regions of the Earth's upper atmosphere, and what the consequences are to the atmosphere and space. These processes are fundamental to many planetary and astrophysical environments, and have practical consequences for large-scale ground and space-based engineering infrastructures on Earth, such as those concerned with power distribution, communications, and navigation."
After its review of the feasibility studies, NASA will select two of the five mission proposals for full development as the third and fourth MIDEX flights. The selection is expected in September.
The Applied Physics Laboratory is a not-for-profit laboratory and independent division of The Johns Hopkins University. APL conducts research and development primarily for national security and for nondefense projects of national and global significance. APL is located midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in Laurel, Md.
Materials provided by Johns Hopkins University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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