The Atlas V 421 rocket at liftoff with the MMS space probes (Photo NASA)

A few hors ago the four MMS (Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission) spacecraft were launched atop an Atlas V 421 rocket from Cape Canaveral. After nearly two hours the spacecraft started separating from the rocket’s last stage, one at a time at intervals of about five minutes. It’s only the beginning of a complex phase of tests, deployment of their booms with the sensors and positioning of the probes in a tetrahedron configuration which will last more than five months.

The MMS mission is really ambitious because it’s based on the work of a constellation of four identical spacecraft that will operate together in a tetrahedral formation in order to make three-dimensional measurements. The purpose is to study the magnetosphere in a way more sophisticated than those previously attempted.

In particular, the space probes will study the phenomenon of the magnetic reconnection. It’s a process in highly conductive plasma in which the magnetic topology is rearranged and the magnetic energy is converted into kinetic and thermal energy and into particle acceleration.

Cosmonauts Elena Serova and Alexander Samokutyaev and astronaut Barry Wilmore assisted after their landing (Image NASA TV)

A few hours ago, NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova returned to Earth on the Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft, which landed without problems in Kazakhstan. The three of them spent almost six months on the International Space Station, where they arrived on September 25, 2014. Initially, they were part of Expedition 41, in the second half of their stay they were part of Expedition 42 with Barry Wilmore as Station commander.

The Orbital ATK spacecraft Cygnus during its Orb-1 mission and the SpaceX spacecraft Dragon during its CRS-5 mission (Photo NASA)

A NASA spokesman announced that the agency decided to extend the CRS (Commercial Resupply Services) contract with SpaceX and Orbital ATK for transporting cargo to the International Space Station. The additional missions are planned for 2017 and are intended to cover NASA’s needs until the new contract, called CRS 2, will be awarded. This extension provides three more missions for SpaceX spacecraft Dragon and another mission for the Orbital ATK spacecraft Cygnus.

NASA confirmed that its space probe Dawn regularly entered the dwarf planet Ceres’ orbit. It was at an altitude of about 61,000 kilometers (about 38,000 miles) when it was captured by the Ceres’ gravity. This happened yesterday but Dawn was on the hidden side of the dwarf planet when it entered its orbit. The consequence is that it took a bit before the probe reached a position where it could transmit data to Earth.

Picture taken by the Mars Rover Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) during a drill at Telegraph Peak (Photo NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The Mars Rover Curiosity’s activity was temporarily stopped due to an electrical anomaly that happened on February 27, 2015. During the transfer of dust samples just taken from a drill using the robotic arm, the fault protection system was triggered. The telemetry data sent by Curiosity indicated that there was a short circuit and for this reason its activity was stopped.