The University of Southampton

Southampton expertise supports nanosatellite development to measure Earth's magnetic field

Published: 9 November 2020
Southampton will work with Iota to develop the next generation of geomagnetic monitoring satellites

Physicists from the University of Southampton are contributing to a novel geomagnetic monitoring satellite that will help maintain modern navigation systems including smartphones.

The collaboration with Iota Technology is developing payload technology that aims to go into service in 2024, prior to the decommissioning of existing satellites in the European Space Agency's SWARM constellation.

The new miniaturised magnetometer will allow nanosatellites to gather high-quality geomagnetic data that, until now, has only been possible with much larger spacecraft.

This vital dataset is an essential part of all modern navigation systems, providing accurate heading data to smartphones, cars, ships, aircraft and small satellites.

Professor Hendrik Ulbricht, Deputy Head and Director of Research for Physics and Astronomy, says: "Our research group is experienced in working with magnetic sensors and this is a great opportunity to work in the space development environment with a real end goal."

Iota Technology's SIGMA product is the first-ever nanosatellite capable of providing geomagnetic data for the World Magnetic Model. The University of Southampton will provide skills and expertise in magnetic field sensing and testing, as well as Printed Circuit Board (PCB) rapid prototyping operated by electronics engineer Gareth Savage.

The collaboration is funded through the national SPRINT (SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology) business support programme.

Hugo Shelley, Director of Iota Technology said: "One of the main challenges in developing the next generation of geomagnetic monitoring satellites is miniaturisation. The magnetometry expertise at the University of Southampton will play a vital part in allowing us to make our technology smaller, without sacrificing the quality of the data that we can capture.

"With the European Space Agency SWARM satellites due to be decommissioned, we only have a short window of time to develop a sustainable service mission capable of recovering this key data. The SPRINT project will accelerate the development of our technology and enable us to build a demonstration model for launch in 2022."

Last month, the SIGMA project was announced as a $350,000 winner of the international National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) MagQuest competition, a global open innovation challenge accelerating novel data collection methodologies. The technology will continue development in the European Space Agency (ESA) Business Incubation Centre in Harwell over the next 12 months.

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