, Volume 141, Issue 1-4, pp 5-34
Date: 22 Apr 2008

The THEMIS Mission

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Abstract

The Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) mission is the fifth NASA Medium-class Explorer (MIDEX), launched on February 17, 2007 to determine the trigger and large-scale evolution of substorms. The mission employs five identical micro-satellites (hereafter termed “probes”) which line up along the Earth’s magnetotail to track the motion of particles, plasma and waves from one point to another and for the first time resolve space–time ambiguities in key regions of the magnetosphere on a global scale. The probes are equipped with comprehensive in-situ particles and fields instruments that measure the thermal and super-thermal ions and electrons, and electromagnetic fields from DC to beyond the electron cyclotron frequency in the regions of interest. The primary goal of THEMIS, which drove the mission design, is to elucidate which magnetotail process is responsible for substorm onset at the region where substorm auroras map (∼10 RE): (i) a local disruption of the plasma sheet current (current disruption) or (ii) the interaction of the current sheet with the rapid influx of plasma emanating from reconnection at ∼25 RE. However, the probes also traverse the radiation belts and the dayside magnetosphere, allowing THEMIS to address additional baseline objectives, namely: how the radiation belts are energized on time scales of 2–4 hours during the recovery phase of storms, and how the pristine solar wind’s interaction with upstream beams, waves and the bow shock affects Sun–Earth coupling. THEMIS’s open data policy, platform-independent dataset, open-source analysis software, automated plotting and dissemination of data within hours of receipt, dedicated ground-based observatory network and strong links to ancillary space-based and ground-based programs. promote a grass-roots integration of relevant NASA, NSF and international assets in the context of an international Heliophysics Observatory over the next decade. The mission has demonstrated spacecraft and mission design strategies ideal for Constellation-class missions and its science is complementary to Cluster and MMS. THEMIS, the first NASA micro-satellite constellation, is a technological pathfinder for future Sun-Earth Connections missions and a stepping stone towards understanding Space Weather.