MD Greenbelt – Mission activities for the joint NASA-JAXA Geotail spacecraft have concluded after 30 years in orbit due to the breakdown of the spacecraft’s final data recorder.
Geotail has orbited the planet since its launch on July 24, 1992, collecting a vast amount of data on the composition and dynamics of the magnetosphere, the planet’s shielding magnetic bubble. The mission of Geotail was initially intended to last for four years, but it was repeatedly extended because of the project’s high-quality data return, which helped to generate more than a thousand scientific papers.
One of Geotail’s two data recorders broke down in 2012, but the other one kept working until it developed an abnormality on June 28, 2022. On November 28th, 2022, mission operations were suspended due to failures in attempts to remotely repair the recorder.
Don Fairfield, an emeritus space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and NASA’s initial project scientist on Geotail until his retirement in 2008 said: “Geotail has been a very productive satellite, and it was the first combined NASA-JAXA mission.” The mission significantly advanced our knowledge of how the solar wind interacts with the magnetic field of the planet to cause magnetic storms and auroras.
Geotail’s extended orbit allowed it to pass past the magnetosphere’s invisible limits while collecting information on the physical processes taking place there to better understand how solar energy and solar particle flows reach Earth.
Numerous scientific discoveries were achieved by Geotail, including the identification of oxygen, silicon, sodium, and aluminum in the lunar atmosphere, as well as the physical processes occurring at the magnetosphere’s boundary and the speed at which solar material enters the magnetosphere.
Additionally, the mission assisted in pinpointing the location of a phenomenon known as magnetic reconnection, which is a significant conduit for solar material and energy entering the magnetosphere and one of the causes of the aurora.
The Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, or MMS, was launched in 2015 as a result of this discovery.
Geotail has worked together with many of NASA’s other space missions over the years, including MMS, Van Allen Probes, Time History of Events, and Macroscale Interactions during the Substorms mission, Cluster, and Wind.
Geotail, whose orbit occasionally took it as far as 120,000 miles from Earth, contributed complementary data from far-flung regions of the magnetosphere to assist researchers to get a fuller picture of how events in one place affect other areas. In order to establish the location and the processes by which aurora form, Geotail was combined with observations made on the ground.
Geotail has finished collecting new data, but the scientific research isn’t finished. In the upcoming years, researchers will continue to examine the data from Geotail.