A ‘dynamo’ in their interior – a metallic core surrounded by several different, rapidly rotating layers, drives the magnetic fields of Earth and several other planets in the Solar System. Earth’s deepest interior creates a field that protects it from permanent bombardment by high-energy particles from the Sun – the solar wind – and cosmic radiation. Many celestial bodies and planets, such as Mars and Venus, do not have a magnetic field. As a result, the magnetic field of the Sun can impinge unhindered on their surface or upper atmosphere.
Surfaces or ionospheres can be simulated with the experimental core of MFX. The ISS provides ideal conditions to study such phenomena – the space station travels across Earth’s magnetic field at 28,000 kilometres per hour. This cannot be reproduced in any laboratory on Earth. The technology experiment was successfully commissioned in 2014 during Alexander Gerst’s Blue Dot mission and, since then, has been investigating, in various ways, the fundamental physics of the above-mentioned interactions.
MagVector/MFX was developed and constructed by AIRBUS on behalf of the DLR Space Administration with funds from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). During the horizons mission, MFX-2 will be equipped with advanced sensors and operated with various material samples – for example, nickel-iron meteorites and chondrites. This extension enables the simulation of even more celestial bodies as they move through the magnetic field. The DLR Institute of Planetary Research is supporting the campaigns scientifically.
MagVector/MFX could also contribute to the development of magnetic shields to protect against charged, high-energy particles, which are necessary for Solar System exploration missions. In addition, the findings will be fundamentally important for the development of all-electric aircraft.