NASA retires 30-year-old Geotail spacecraft after data recorder’s failure

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Geotail, the first joint mission between NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), has retired after the failure of the spacecraft’s remaining data recorder. Launched in 1992, the spacecraft spent 30 years in orbit studying the dynamics of the Earth’s magnetotail over a wide range of distances.

Geotail was initially planned to last four years, yet it was extended several times because of the vast amount of valuable data it provided, which contributed to over a thousand scientific publications. The mission achieved a number of scientific advances, such as determining the speed at which material from the Sun enters the magnetosphere, exploring the physical processes occurring at the magnetosphere’s edge, and detecting oxygen, silicon, sodium, and aluminum in the lunar atmosphere.

In 2012, one of Geotail’s two data recorders stopped functioning, while the other kept running until an anomaly occurred on June 28, 2022. Despite attempts to fix the recorder remotely, the mission operations were concluded on November 28, 2022.

“Geotail has been a very productive satellite, and it was the first joint NASA-JAXA mission. The mission made important contributions to our understanding of how the solar wind interacts with Earth’s magnetic field to produce magnetic storms and auroras,” said Don Fairfield, emeritus space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and NASA’s first project scientist for Geotail until his retirement in 2008.

Although Geotail is done gathering new data, the scientific discoveries aren’t over. Scientists will continue to study Geotail’s data in the coming years, NASA said in a statement on Thursday.


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