17 September 2012
Shoebox sized satellite to study Earth’s magnetic field
A shoebox sized satellite with a magnetic sensor designed by a team at Imperial College London has been launched into orbit to study how the Earth's magnetic field is affected by the solar wind.
Called CINEMA (CubeSat for Ions, Neutrals, Electrons, & Magnetic fields), it could provide insight into how this stream of electrically charged particles can cause damage to electricity grids and telecommunication networks on the ground.
The satellite is among eleven CubeSats – small and inexpensive satellites designed to save cost by piggybacking aboard other space missions. These take advantage of the miniaturisation of electronics and use off the shelf components to make scientific measurements which complement those from larger spacecraft.
"If you want to have a global picture of what's happening in the magnetic fields surrounding the Earth, you need to have a lot of spacecraft providing measurements," said Professor Tim Horbury at Imperial. "The magnetic field is especially important to measure, because it provides a really accurate way of spotting waves and other disturbances in space near the Earth."
The team from Imperial's department of physics created a magnetometer, an instrument that measures the tiny magnetic fields in space and also helps the satellite by providing vital information about its orientation as it orbits the Earth.
"We've designed an incredibly tiny magnetic sensor - about the size of a one pound coin - so it's ideally suited to fly on these small, relatively cheap satellites, and this will provide the first opportunity to use this new technology in space," said Patrick Brown, who designed the magnetometer.
The other scientific instruments aboard CINEMA were designed and built by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, Kyung Hee University in Korea, and the Inter American University of Puerto Rico.