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Title: The ELFIN Mission
Abstract The Electron Loss and Fields Investigation with a Spatio-Temporal Ambiguity-Resolving option (ELFIN-STAR, or heretoforth simply: ELFIN) mission comprises two identical 3-Unit (3U) CubeSats on a polar (∼93 ∘ inclination), nearly circular, low-Earth (∼450 km altitude) orbit. Launched on September 15, 2018, ELFIN is expected to have a >2.5 year lifetime. Its primary science objective is to resolve the mechanism of storm-time relativistic electron precipitation, for which electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) waves are a prime candidate. From its ionospheric vantage point, ELFIN uses its unique pitch-angle-resolving capability to determine whether measured relativistic electron pitch-angle and energy spectra within the loss cone bear the characteristic signatures of scattering by EMIC waves or whether such scattering may be due to other processes. Pairing identical ELFIN satellites with slowly-variable along-track separation allows disambiguation of spatial and temporal evolution of the precipitation over minutes-to-tens-of-minutes timescales, faster than the orbit period of a single low-altitude satellite (T orbit ∼ 90 min). Each satellite carries an energetic particle detector for electrons (EPDE) that measures 50 keV to 5 MeV electrons with $\Delta $ Δ E/E < 40% and a fluxgate magnetometer (FGM) on a ∼72 cm boom that measures magnetic field waves (e.g., EMIC waves) in the range from DC to more » 5 Hz Nyquist (nominally) with <0.3 nT/sqrt(Hz) noise at 1 Hz. The spinning satellites (T spin $\,\sim $ ∼ 3 s) are equipped with magnetorquers (air coils) that permit spin-up or -down and reorientation maneuvers. Using those, the spin axis is placed normal to the orbit plane (nominally), allowing full pitch-angle resolution twice per spin. An energetic particle detector for ions (EPDI) measures 250 keV – 5 MeV ions, addressing secondary science. Funded initially by CalSpace and the University Nanosat Program, ELFIN was selected for flight with joint support from NSF and NASA between 2014 and 2018 and launched by the ELaNa XVIII program on a Delta II rocket (with IceSatII as the primary). Mission operations are currently funded by NASA. Working under experienced UCLA mentors, with advice from The Aerospace Corporation and NASA personnel, more than 250 undergraduates have matured the ELFIN implementation strategy; developed the instruments, satellite, and ground systems and operate the two satellites. ELFIN’s already high potential for cutting-edge science return is compounded by concurrent equatorial Heliophysics missions (THEMIS, Arase, Van Allen Probes, MMS) and ground stations. ELFIN’s integrated data analysis approach, rapid dissemination strategies via the SPace Environment Data Analysis System (SPEDAS), and data coordination with the Heliophysics/Geospace System Observatory (H/GSO) optimize science yield, enabling the widest community benefits. Several storm-time events have already been captured and are presented herein to demonstrate ELFIN’s data analysis methods and potential. These form the basis of on-going studies to resolve the primary mission science objective. Broad energy precipitation events, precipitation bands, and microbursts, clearly seen both at dawn and dusk, extend from tens of keV to >1 MeV. This broad energy range of precipitation indicates that multiple waves are providing scattering concurrently. Many observed events show significant backscattered fluxes, which in the past were hard to resolve by equatorial spacecraft or non-pitch-angle-resolving ionospheric missions. These observations suggest that the ionosphere plays a significant role in modifying magnetospheric electron fluxes and wave-particle interactions. Routine data captures starting in February 2020 and lasting for at least another year, approximately the remainder of the mission lifetime, are expected to provide a very rich dataset to address questions even beyond the primary mission science objective. « less
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Award ID(s):
2019950 2019914
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Space Science Reviews
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. This study analyzes the effects of electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) waves on relativistic electron scattering and losses in the Earth’s outer radiation belt. EMIC emissions are commonly observed in the inner magnetosphere and are known to reach high amplitudes, causing significant pitch angle changes in primarily > 1 MeV electrons via cyclotron resonance interactions. We run test-particle simulations of electrons streaming through helium band waves with different amplitudes and wave normal angles and assess the sensitivity of advective and diffusive scattering behaviors to these two parameters, including the possibility of very oblique propagation. The numerical analysis confirms the importance of harmonic resonances for oblique waves, and the very oblique waves are observed to efficiently scatter both co-streaming and counter-streaming electrons. However, strong finite Larmor radius effects limit the scattering efficiency at high pitch angles. Recently discussed force-bunching effects and associated strong positive advection at low pitch angles are, surprisingly, shown to cause no decrease in the phase space density of precipitating electrons, and it is demonstrated that the transport of electrons into the loss cone balances out the scattering out of the loss cone. In the case of high-amplitude obliquely propagating waves, weak but non-negligible losses are detected well below themore »minimum resonance energy, and we identify them as the result of non-linear fractional resonances. Simulations and theoretical analysis suggest that these resonances might contribute to subrelativistic electron precipitation but are likely to be overshadowed by non-resonant effects.« less
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