With the completion of Geotail satellite operations, a 30-year-old NASA-Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission has been completed.
Geotail was sent into orbit in July 1992 with the intention of studying the magnetosphere of the planet. This is the area where our planet’s magnetic field has an impact on particles. It’s crucial for our health because it shields us from harmful cosmic radiation. The magnetosphere is not a circular bubble since most of this radiation is in the form of solar wind from the sun. Instead, it has a long tail shape on the night side of the planet due to streaming particles from the sun.
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In order to examine this tail and discover more about its dynamics, Geotail orbited the Earth in a very elliptical orbit. It made use of equipment to keep an eye on electrical and magnetic fields, as well as plasma and high-energy particles. The satellite, which was only intended to be operational for four years, ended up running for an astonishing 30 years while providing data for over a thousand scholarly papers.
Additionally noteworthy was the fact that NASA and JAXA, the Japanese space agency, collaborated on the project. Don Fairfield, the initial project scientist for NASA on Geotail, stated in a statement that the satellite has been very successful and that it was the first cooperative 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.
Throughout the course of its mission, Geotail did not have it easy. One of its computers broke in 1993, a year after the mission’s launch, and it appeared as though the mission’s primary instrument, the Low Energy Particles experiment, would be rendered useless. After failing to restart the computer, the team decided to risk everything by sending the satellite around the dark side of the moon, where it would be briefly cut off from sunlight and power. The satellite returned to the light after spending 10 minutes in the dark, and the computer was successfully reset.
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That made it possible for the mission to proceed as planned, but after several years of usage, parts started to break down. One of its two data recorders stopped functioning in 2012. The second recorder operated until June 2022, when a fault prevented it from being repaired. The program’s operations came to an end in November 2022, and NASA recently declared the mission to be completed.
Findings regarding the magnetosphere and minerals from the moon’s incredibly thin atmosphere are left behind by Geotail. More recent missions, such the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission that was launched in 2015, continue its work.