Using CubeSats to Learn About Space Weather
Michael Alba posted on December 30, 2016 |

Researchers from the University of Alberta’s AlbertaSat student group have designed a miniature fluxgate magnetometer for use in space research. The instrument will fly atop AlbertaSat’s Experimental Albertan #1 cube satellite (Ex-Alta 1 CubeSat), which is currently set to launch in Spring 2017.


The Ex-Alta 1 CubeSat is set to be launched in Spring 2017. (Image courtesy of AlbertaSat.)
The Ex-Alta 1 CubeSat is set to be launched in Spring 2017. (Image courtesy of AlbertaSat.)

The miniature fluxgate magnetometer will take high-frequency measurements of the near-Earth magnetic field, which influences space weather.

The novel design, small size and low cost of the fluxgate magnetometer allow it to be used aboard small satellites, such as the Ex-Alta 1. This offers an alternative to more massive and costly instruments, like induction coil magnetometers.

“Historically, space research has used one, or at most a handful, of large, expensive spacecraft to explore near-Earth space and our solar system,” explained principal investigator David Miles. “While this has provided stunning insight into our planet and our solar system, it necessarily gives a limited and incomplete picture.”


Understanding Space with Nanosatellites

The boom-mounted fluxgate magnetometer in its stowed configuration aboard the Ex-Alta 1 CubeSat. The red arrow indicates the fluxgate sensor. (Image courtesy of the Journal of Geophysical Research – Space Physics/University of Alberta.)

The boom-mounted fluxgate magnetometer in its stowed configuration aboard the Ex-Alta 1 CubeSat. The red arrow indicates the fluxgate sensor. (Image courtesy of the Journal of Geophysical Research – Space Physics/University of Alberta.)

The AlbertaSat team is hoping that their new magnetometer will help demonstrate the viability of University-based space exploration. Specifically, they hope to demonstrate that nanosatellites like Ex-Alta 1 can lower the barrier to space research.

“Imagine trying to understand and predict the path of hurricanes with only a few weather stations dotted around the world,” said Ian Mann, co-lead for Ex-Alta 1. 

“That’s the current challenge for accurate space weather forecasting in the vastness of space around the Earth. However, miniaturized technology would enable swarms of perhaps hundreds of spacecraft or more to pin-point the potentially destructive paths of space storms.”

You can learn more about the magnetometer and Ex-Alta 1 on AlbertaSat’s website, or by reading the team’s paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Space Physics.

To learn more about CubeSats, read Carbon Nanotube Mirrors Developed for NASA CubeSat.

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