NASA Looks to Study Earth’s Magnetosphere with the Launch of MMS


Image Credit & Copyright: NASA/Ben Smegelsky.

LAUNCH ALERT: Thursday night, March 12, 2015 at 22:44 EDT (19:44 PDT & 02:44 UTC on the 13th) a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V-421 Rocket will launch a 4 satellite payload for NASA called the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) from Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41 or SLICK-41) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Florida. The launch window spans 30 minutes.

This is ULA’s 3rd flight of 2015, 53rd launch of an Atlas V since its inaugural 2002 launch, the ULA’s 94th launch since the company’s founding in December of 2006.

The Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) The Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission studies the mystery of how magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect, explosively releasing energy via a process known as magnetic reconnection. MMS consists of four identical spacecraft that work together to provide the first three-dimensional view of this fundamental process, which occurs throughout the universe.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-5 (V) 500 Series rocket is a two-stage rocket that depending on the size of the fairing used stands between 59.7 m (196 ft.) and 65.5 m (215 ft.) with a diameter of 12.5ft (3.81m) and consists of an Atlas Common Core Booster with a Russian RD-180 engine and first stage with a United States RL-10 Centaur upper stage built by AeroJet-Rocketdyne. The vehicle is available in 6 different configurations which are built specifically for each individual mission. Its launch sites are Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Launch Complex-41 (LC-41) or Vandenberg Air Force Base, Launch Complex-3 (LC-3). Performance to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) ranges from 8,320 lb. to 19,620 lb. Performance to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) ranges from 17,510 lb. to 40,800 lb.


4 = 4 Meter fairing (2-shell).

2 = 2 External solid rocket boosters.

1 = 1 Centaur second stage engine.

MAIN PAYLOAD FAIRING (PLF): The Main Payload Fairing for the Atlas-V-421 is a two-shell, 4 m (13.8 ft.) diameter fairing and is used to protect the spacecraft & Centaur during its ascent through atmospheric turbulence and into space. Once safely out of Earth’s atmosphere (Or at least most of it), the fairing is pyrotechnically jettisoned via a debris-free actuating system.

CENTAUR UPPER STAGE: The Centaur Upper stage is 3.1 m (10 ft.) in diameter and 12.7 m (41.6 ft.) in length. It consists of a single Cryogenic RL-10A-4-2 (RL-10) Aerojet Rocketdyne Engine that provides 22,300 lb. of thrust and utilizes liquid hydrogen (LH2) for propellant and liquid oxygen (LOX) as an oxidizer with a burn time of up to 740 seconds to include multiple engine firings. There are also four 27-N (Newton) thrusters and eight 40-N (Newton) thrusters used for attitude control. Both utilize hydrazine as propellant. The Centaur Forward Adapter (CFA) provides structural mountings for vehicle electronics within the spacecraft.

SOLID ROCKET BOOSTERS (SRB’s): Have a diameter of 158 cm (62.2 in) and a length of 20 m (65.6 ft.). The total number of SRB’s utilized is dependent on the individual mission and vary from none at all to 5. They are jettisoned after approximately a minute and a half of flight.

COMMON CORE BOOSTER (CCB) (First-Stage): The American Atlas-V Common Booster Core is 106.5 ft. (32.46 m) in length by 12.5 ft. (3.8 m) in diameter and is powered by a single two-chamber Russian RD-180 engine that utilizes Rocket Propellant-1 (RP-1 or highly purified kerosene) as propellant and Liquid Oxygen (LOX) as the oxidizer. It provides 860,300lb. of thrust at sea level and can burn for 253 seconds. The RD-180 engine is modeled after the 4-chanber RD-170 engines used by the Zenit rocket family.

Watch LIVE: (Webcast begins at 20:00 EDT).


NASA TV Ustream:

ULA Webcast:

MMS Mission Brochure:

MMS Mission Overview:


ULA homepage:


Twitter for ULA CEO Tory Bruno:





Atlas V rocket:

Atlas V Users Guide:

Atlas V 400 Series Cutaway:

Atlas V 500 Series Cutaway:

Lockheed Martin Atlas V:


National Reconnaissance Office (NRO):

Patrick AFB (45th Space Wing) (Cape Canaveral):



5th Space Launch Squadron (5th SLS):

Vandenberg AFB (30th Space Wing):




4th Space Launch Squadron (4th SLS):

Air Force Space Command:





Peterson AFB (21st Space Wing):



Aerojet-Rocketdyne Homepage:



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