A new Guinness World Record has been established by NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale mission (MMS).
The record of 70,000 kilometers above Earth is now the highest altitude fix of a Global Positioning System (GPS) signal ever recorded. Operating in a highly elliptical orbit around Earth, the four MMS spacecraft incorporate GPS measurements into their precise tracking systems, which require extremely sensitive position and orbit calculations to guide tight flying formations.
Earlier this year, MMS achieved the closest flying separation of a multi-spacecraft formation with only 7.2 km between the four satellites. When the satellites are closest to Earth, they move at up to 35,405 km per hour, making them the fastest known operational use of a GPS receiver. When MMS is not breaking records, ground-breaking science is conducted. MMS is opening new insights into Earth's magnetosphere as the first year of operations continue for the spacecraft.
The mission uses four individual satellites that fly in a pyramid formation to map magnetic reconnection, a process that occurs as the sun and Earth's magnetic fields interact. Precise GPS tracking allows the satellites to maintain a tight formation and obtain high resolution, three-dimensional observations. Understanding the causes of magnetic reconnection is important for understanding phenomena around the universe from auroras on Earth, to flares on the surface of the sun, and even to areas surrounding black holes.