A compact atomic magnetometer for cubesats
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By shining a precisely tuned laser through an atomic vapor, we can determine local mag- netic field strength in scalar form and in a way that is not affected by temperature changes. This technology has been used in space many times before on missions flown by NASA and ESA, such as SWARM, Øersted, and CHAMP to calibrate accompanying vector mag- netometers which are subject to offsets caused by temperature changes. The device we constructed is a small, low-cost application of this scientific principle and opens up new areas of scientific possibility for cubesats and the ability to define geomagnetic field struc- tures on a small (<10km) scale as part of the ANDESITE cubesat mission being developed at Boston University. Previously, magnetic sensors in orbit have been flown individually on a single spacecraft or in very small groups such as the International Sun-Earth Exporers (ISEE) and SWARM which each used three separate spacecraft. This method of analyzing the geomagnetic field cannot provide a spatial or time resolution smaller than that of the separation between magnetic field readings. This project has focused on producing a tabletop demonstra- tion of a compact sensor head which could enable measurements on unprecedented small scales. Toward this end we have accomplished the construction and preliminary testing of a compact sensor head which contains all necessary elements to function as a scalar atomic magnetometer.
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