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Proposed Projects

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) Mission (launch date 2012):

The UMN proposal for an Electric Field and Search Coil (EFASC) Instrument Suite on the NASA RBSP mission

Breaking News -- Click Here for Details -- NASA announces the selection of the Electric Field Instrument (EFI) from the University of Minnesota proposed EFASC instrument suite for the RBSP mission.

Recently, the University of Minnesota Space Plasma Physics Group proposed to NASA for an instrument to measure electric fields and high frequency magnetic fields to fly on the Radiation Belt Storm Probe (RBSP) Mission. Selections have recently been announced and the main portion of the EFASC proposal, the Electric Field Instrument (EFI), has been selected. (A search coil instrument will also be flown on the mission by a collaboration headed by Dr. Craig Kletzing for the University of Iowa.) The Principle Investigator of the EFASC/EFI proposal is Professor John Wygant. Collaborating institutions include the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Colorado, Boulder, Dartmouth College, University of Alberta in Canada, the Air Force Research Laboratory in Lexington Massachusetts, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The RBSP mission consists of two spacecraft designed to investigate the plasma physics mechanisms responsible for episodic intervals of intense charged particle energization in the Earth's radiation belts. Some of these mechanisms include shocks, large-scale oscillating wave fields, injection fronts, electric fields associated with large scale flow of plasma, and interactions with higher frequency waves. These mechanisms can increase energetic particle fluxes by factors of hundreds to millions over periods of seconds to days. The RBSP spacecraft will also be equipped with instruments designed to measure the energetic electrons and protons, as well as low frequency magnetic fields built by other groups of experimenters around the country. The purpose of the RBSP mission is to provide both a conceptual and quantitative understanding of these energization mechanisms. Many of these same processes are believed to operate at the planetary magnetospheres of magnetized planets such as Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus. There is strong evidence these energetic particles can result in spacecraft problems ranging from momentary operational malfunctions to reduction in spacecraft lifetime, and, in some cases, complete spacecraft loss.


Active Projects

The STEREO Mission (launch date late-summer 2006):

The Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) is a two spacecraft mission in which the spacecraft are placed in orbit around the sun at the same distance as the Earth with one spacecraft ahead of the Earth and one spacecraft trailing. The purpose of the two separated spacecraft is to provide a stereoscopic view of solar flares and coronal mass ejections, as they gradually develop on the surface of the sun and then erupt explosively into interplanetary space. These processes are associated with energization of particles to extremely high energies. In addition, on their journey to the outer reaches of the solar system, coronal mass ejects can encounter the Earth's magnetosphere where they drive major geomagnetic storms. These structures are powerful generators of energetic particles and radio waves which can be detected during both the explosive phases of the eruptions and while they plow through the interplanetary medium. These radio waves are thought to be generated where energetic particles are being accelerated and provide important insights on the different acceleration mechanisms involved. The University of Minnesota (Keith Goetz, Paul Kellogg, Steve Monson, and Cindy Cattell), in collaboration with a French team from the Observatory of Paris in Meudon and a team from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is responsible for the plasma and radio waves instrument to be flown on the STEREO spacecraft (SWAVES). Keith Goetz is responsible for the hardware design and development. The SWAVES instrument will measure plasma and radio waves at frequencies ranging up to 32 MHz, including waveform capture sampling to examine nonlinear waves. Another instrument, IMPACT, lead by a team from U.C. Berkeley will measure energetic particle fluxes as they travel to the Earth. The STEREO spacecraft is also equipped with white light coronagraphs built by the Naval Research Laboratory to view these structures while they are still close to the sun and PLASTIC, built by the University of New Hampshire, which measures the composition of ions accelerated during these eruptions.


The Cluster (II) Multi-Spacecraft Mission:

The four-satellite ESA/NASA Cluster Mission was designed study cross-scale coupling and particle acceleration at magnetospheric boundaries, including the magnetopause and bow shock, and to examine turbulence in the solar wind. It was launched in July and August, 2000 into a polar obit with apogee of ~19 Re (1 Re = 1 earth radii, ~6400 km) and perigee of ~4 Re. The four Cluster satellites orbit in a tetrahedral formation, designed to separate spatial and temporal variations, with variable separations from ~500 to 5000 km. The tetrahedral separation has enabled numerous important discovered related to motion, orientation and scale-sizes of boundaries and waves. Cluster research at the University of Minnesota has provided new observations of reconnection in the magnetotail, including the first measurements of electron inertial scale current sheets and ballistic acceleration of hydrogen (oxygen) ions by hydrogen (oxygen) inertial-scale electric potential wells and the first simultaneous observations of narrow electron beams and electron holes at reconnection sites. Professor John Wygant participated in the development of the Cluster EFW (Electric Field and Waves) hardware. Professors Cattell, Kellogg and Wygant are Co-Investigators on the Cluster EFW Instrument. Three current University of Minnesota Ph.D. students are investigating Cluster observations of plasma processes in the magnetosphere.


The Fast Auroral SnapshoT (FAST) Mission:

The Fast Auroral SnapshoT (FAST) satellite, launched in August, 1996, was the second satellite in NASAÆs small explorer program. It was designed to obtain extremely high time resolution measurements of particles and fields to explore the physical processes that accelerate particles and create the visible aurora. FAST examines the natural acceleration processes that occur at the interface between the cool, dense collision-dominated ionospheric plasma and the hot, tenuous, colli-sionless magnetospheric plasma. These same acceleration processes are expected to occur in other similar plasma tran-sition regions, for example in the atmospheric-magneto-spheric transition around planets such as Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury, in the photospheric-coronal transition at our Sun, and in astrophysical plasmas where intense radio emission indicates processes similar to the EarthÆs generation of auroral kilometric radiation (AKR). The FAST mission has revolutionized our view of the aurora and resolved the detailed plasma interactions that control magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling via waves and plasma. FAST continues to operate and is the only NASA satellite obtaing measurement of particles and currents in this important region of space. Professor Cattell is a FAST Co-Investigator and many University of Minnesota graduate students and undergraduates have performed research on this data set. Two Ph.D. students utilized FAST data in their theses.


The Polar Mission:

The NASA Polar satellite, launched in February, 1996, was designed to study the processes of flow of energy, mass and momentum in the polar regions of the EarthÆs magnetosphere using twelve instruments, including both visible and UV imagers and in-situ particles and fields instruments. Intially, apogee (at an altitude of ~8.5 Re) was over the northern pole and perigee (~1 Re) over the southern poles. Precession of the orbit resulted in apogee in the equatorial plane, so that the critical region of the sub-solar magnetopause and the near-earth magnetotail could be explorered. Research at the University of Minnesota using Polar data has focussed on magnetic reconnetion and energy flow to power the aurora, as well as on particle acceleration processes and solitary waves. Professor John Wygant participated in the development of the Polar Electric Field Instrument (EFI) and is a Polar EFI Co-Investigator. Professor Cattell in a Co-Investigator on the EFI and MFE (magnetic field instrument). Four University of Minnesota Ph.D. students based their Ph.D. thesis substantially on Polar observations. A number of undergraduates have also been involved in research on Polar data at the University of Minnesota.


The Wind Mission:

The NASA Wind satellite was launched in November, 1994. It was designed to study plasma processes in the solar wind near 1 AU, to provide coordinated measurements for satellites studying the solar wind at other radial distances, and to provide information on the solar wind drivers of magnetospheric activity. Professor Paul Kellogg and Keith Goetz are Co-investigators on the Wind Waves instrument. The Wind Waves instrument has provided the data for important new results on Type II and Type IV radio bursts, non-linear wave-wave interactions and on shocks. The Wind Waves instrument in the precursor to the STEREO Waves instrument and will provide waves measurements at a third point for shock and CME propagation studies made by STEREO.


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