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Oersted’s NMR magnetometer - CNES

Published on 16 April 2016


From the Titanic to space flight

A nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) magnetometer was used in 1987 to search the North Atlantic for the sunken Titanic. Twelve years later, the same high-precision device was launched into space on board the Danish Space Institute’s Oersted satellite, where it is being used to measure the intensity of Earth’s magnetic field and track any fluctuations. The purpose of the mission is to map the magnetic field for use in scientific and industrial research.


Oersted’s NMR magnetometer was developed in conjunction with CNES, the French National Space Agency. Based on a terrestrial version of the device, the “space“ version is smaller and lighter in weight: new materials were used to bring it from 2 kg to 800 g.

A full two years of research and development went into issues like vibration—and shock-resistance—radiation hardening, operation at temperatures ranging from -20°C to 50°C, and metrological testing. The scalar magnetometer was combined with fluxgate sensors to determine the direction of the magnetic field.

Oersted was launched in 1999 for a fourteen-month mission, and has been providing data to scientists worldwide since 2006. Today it continues to send data occasionally, depending on its electricity reserves. The NMR magnetometer is the only instrument on board that is still functioning.

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