NASA’s Geotail mission signs off after 30 years: Key facts

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NASA’s Geotail mission signs off after 30 years: Key facts

Jan 19, 2023, 03:23 pm
2 min read

An artistic impression of the Geotail spacecraft (Photo credit: NASA)

The Geotail mission, a collaboration between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), has officially come to an end after 30 years.

Among its varied accomplishments, the Geotail dataset, along with ground-based observations, shed light on the location and mechanisms of the formation of auroras.

What led to the termination of the mission was the failure of the spacecraft’s only-operating data recorder.

Why does this story matter?

  • Geotail, which has achieved several significant breakthroughs during its 30-year reign in space, is the first joint mission between NASA and JAXA.”Geotail was originally slated for a four-year run, but the mission was extended several times due to its high-quality data return, which contributed to over a thousand scientific publications,” wrote NASA in a blog post.

The Geotail mission was launched in 1992

The Geotail mission’s prime goal was to probe the Earth’s magnetosphere, the “protective magnetic bubble” surrounding our planet. The 1000-kg satellite took to space on July 24, 1992.

The mission provided crucial insights into the flow of energy and particles from the Sun reaching Earth, the processes occurring at the magnetosphere’s boundary, and has identified oxygen, silicon, sodium, and aluminum in the lunar atmosphere.

The missions operations were terminated on November 28, 2022

Geotail had two data recorders, one of which failed in 2012 after collecting data for almost twenty years.

The second continued to work, for almost a decade longer, until it encountered a technical glitch on June 28, 2022.

Attempts were made to remotely repair the recorder but to no avail. The mission’s operations were terminated on November 28, 2022, according to NASA.

Scientists will continue to study data gathered by Geotail

“Geotail has been a very productive satellite, and it was the first joint NASA-JAXA mission,” said Don Fairfield, NASA’s first project scientist for the mission who retired in 2008.

“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.”

Scientists will continue investigating Geotail’s data in the coming years.

The mission’s findings paved the way for the MMS mission

The Geotail mission helped determine the location of a process called magnetic reconnection, which relays material and energy from the Sun into the magnetosphere and is one of the initiators of auroras. This finding paved the way for the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) in 2015.

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