Geotail mission finally ends after 30 years

Though initially planned as a four year mission, the Geotail probe — designed to study the Earth’s magnetosphere — finally failed on June 28, 2022 after 30 years of operation.

With an elongated orbit, Geotail sailed through the invisible boundaries of the magnetosphere, gathering data on the physical process at play there to help understand how the flow of energy and particles from the Sun reach Earth. Geotail made many scientific breakthroughs, including helping scientists understand how quickly material from the Sun passes into the magnetosphere, the physical processes at play at the magnetosphere’s boundary, and identifying oxygen, silicon, sodium, and aluminum in the lunar atmosphere.

The mission also helped identify the location of a process called magnetic reconnection, which is a major conveyor of material and energy from the Sun into the magnetosphere and one of the instigators of the aurora. This discovery laid the way for the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, or MMS, which launched in 2015.

Though it failed in June, engineers worked until November attempting to recover the spacecraft. When those efforts failed, NASA officially ended the mission.

Update on the recovery of long lost IMAGE spacecraft

Link here. Not much additional information, other than the engineers have determined that the spacecraft has definitely done a reboot and appears to be operational.

The puzzle is that when the satellite went dark around 2005, it was using its backup equipment, dubbed Side B, because of issues with Side A. Now however it appears to be using its primary equipment, Side A. Engineers at the moment do not understand why.

I should add that I previously thought IMAGE was designed to study the Sun. That was wrong. It was designed to study the Earth’s magnetosphere, and how that interacts with the solar wind and solar magnetic storms.

Engineers have pushed the four orbiting Cluster satellites into their closest configuration yet.

Flying in formation: Engineers have pushed the four orbiting Cluster satellites into their closest configuration yet.

In an orbital reconfiguration that will help to maintain the mission’s life span, two of the four satellites achieved their closest-ever separation on 19 September, closing to within just 4 km of each other as they orbited at up to 23 000 km/h high above Earth. “We’re optimising the Cluster formation so that the separation between Cluster 1 and the duo of Cluster 3 and 4 – which are on almost identical orbits – is kept below 100 km when the formation crosses Earth’s magnetic equator,” says Detlef Sieg, working on Cluster flight dynamics at ESA’s ESOC operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

This close formation will provide scientists better data, as they are finding that the Earth’s magnetosphere is far more complex than expected.