Mission Description

The overarching mission goal of the TRACERS mission is: Connecting the magnetospheric cusp to the magnetopause – discovering how spatial or temporal variations in magnetic reconnection drive cusp dynamics.

To address this goal, the TRACERS mission has three major scientific objectives:

  • Determine whether magnetopause reconnection is primarily spatially or temporally variable for a range of solar wind conditions.
  • For temporally varying reconnection, determine how the reconnection rate evolves.
  • Determine to what extent dynamic structures in the cusp are associated with temporal versus spatial reconnection.

To accomplish this scientific research, TRACERS consists of two identically instrument spacecraft making observations in the cusp in 500 km sun-synchronous circular orbits with the spacecraft separated by 10 s to 120 s.  Statistical analysis of the orbit shows that TRACERS will have more than 3250 cups encounters in the one year mission lifetime.  Well-proven instruments and a good understanding of orbital characteristics allow for simple mission operations coupled with proven data analysis techniques backed by high-fidelity simulations.


The TRACERS instrumentation suite of five primary instruments was chosen specifically to meet science objectives. The instruments have heritage on flown magnetospheric missions. The measurement requirements are well within existing capabilities, with no new technology needed.


Project Partners

  • Southwest Research Institute
  • Millennium Space Systems
  • University of California Berkeley
  • UCLA
  • University of New Hampshire
  • Bison Aerospace


2019_04_19-Craig Kletzing Teaching

Kletzing To Speak at 39th Presidential Lecture Feb. 27

Thursday, January 20, 2022
Professor Craig Kletzing is one of three distinguished University of Iowa faculty members who will give presentations at the 39th Presidential Lecture on Feb. 27.

From small towns to a big NASA gig

Recent University of Iowa graduates Andrew Carton and Ryan Helland grew up in small communities in Iowa never dreaming they’d be involved in space research. But through their academic experiences at Iowa, they both secured jobs with TRACERS, a landmark NASA mission.
Craig Kletzing teaching

Chat from the Old Cap Aug 20: Dr. Craig Kletzing

Tuesday, June 30, 2020
As part of the University of Iowa Center for Advancement's Chat from the Old Cap series, Dr. Craig Kletzing, a professor in physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa and principal investigator for the UI's latest NASA mission presented a virtual engagement session on Aug. 26, 2020.
solar wind

UI-led space mission funded by $115 million grant from NASA takes next step

Daily Iowan - University of Iowa research funded by NASA is moving into its second phase, adding a supplemental mission as it attempts to answer questions regarding space weather.

NASA-Iowa TRACERS project moves into next phase

Iowa Now - $115 million space mission led by University of Iowa gets go-ahead.
solar winds NASA

Space's Storm Chasers: Inside Iowa's Latest NASA Mission

In the 19th century, an extraordinary celestial event lit up the night's sky and wreaked havoc with the nation's telegraph system. If it happens again, it would be calamitous for our tech-reliant world. A new University of Iowa-led NASA mission will help us better understand space weather and prepare for the next solar superstorm.
Craig Kletzing

$115M NASA contract calls for UI physicists to study connection between Earth, sun magnetic fields

Iowa Now - A team led by University of Iowa physicist Craig Kletzing has won $115 million from NASA to study the mysterious, powerful interactions between the magnetic fields of the sun and Earth.