Spacecraft magnetometer

Spacecraft magnetometers are magnetometers used aboard spacecraft and satellites, mostly for scientific investigations, plus attitude sensing. Magnetometers are among the most widely used scientific instruments in exploratory and observation satellites. These instruments were instrumental in mapping the Van Allen radiation belts around Earth after its discovery by Explorer 1, and have detailed the magnetic fields of the Earth, Moon, Sun, Mars, Venus and other planets and moons. There are ongoing missions using magnetometers, including attempts to define the shape and activity of Saturn's core.

The first spacecraft-borne magnetometer was placed on the Sputnik 3 spacecraft in 1958 and the most detailed magnetic observations of the Earth have been performed by the Magsat and Ørsted satellites. Magnetometers were taken to the Moon during the later Apollo missions. Many instruments have been used to measure the strength and direction of magnetic field lines around Earth and the solar system.

Spacecraft magnetometers basically fall into three categories: fluxgate, search-coil and ionized gas magnetometers. The most accurate magnetometer complexes on spacecraft contain two separate instruments, with a helium ionized gas magnetometer used to calibrate the fluxgate instrument for more accurate readings. Many later magnetometers contain small ring-coils oriented at 90° in two dimensions relative to each other forming a triaxial framework for indicating direction of magnetic field.

Magnetometers for non-space use evolved from the 19th to mid-20th centuries, and were first employed in spaceflight by Sputnik 3 in 1958. A main constraint on magnetometers in space is the availability of power and mass. Magnetometers fall into 3 major categories: the fluxgate type, search coil and the ionized vapor magnetometers. The newest type is the Overhauser type based on nuclear magnetic resonance technology.

Fluxgate magnetometers are used for their electronic simplicity and low weight. There have been several types of fluxgate used in spacecraft, which vary in two regards. Primarily better readings are obtained with three magnetometers, each pointing in a different direction. Some spacecraft have instead achieved this by rotating the craft and taking readings at 120° intervals, but this creates other issues. The other difference is in the configuration, which is simple and circular.

Magnetometers of this type were equipped on the "Pioneer 0"/Able 1, "Pioneer 1"/Able 2, Ye1.1, Ye1.2, and Ye1.3 missions that failed in 1958 due to launch problems. The Pioneer 1 however did collect data on the Van Allen belts. In 1959 the Soviet "Luna 1"/Ye1.4 carried a three-component magnetometer that passed the moon en route to a heliocentric orbit at a distance of 6,400 miles (10,300 km), but the magnetic field could not be accurately assessed. Eventually the USSR managed a lunar impact with "Luna 2", a three component magnetometer, finding no significant magnetic field in close approach to the surface. Explorer 10 had an abbreviated 52 hr mission with two fluxgate magnetometers on board. During 1958 and 1959 failure tended to characterize missions carrying magnetometers: 2 instruments were lost on Able IVB alone. In early 1966 the USSR finally placed Luna 10 in orbit around the moon carrying a magnetometer and was able to confirm the weak nature of the moon's magnetic field. Venera 4, 5, and 6 also carried magnetometers on their trips to Venus, although they were not placed on the landing craft.

This page was last edited on 20 March 2018, at 17:38.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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