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Success | Earth sciences
Leti innovation stories
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
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.
Resources and skills
CEA is a French government-funded technological research organisation in four main areas: low-carbon energies, defense and security, information technologies and health technologies. A prominent player in the European Research Area, it is involved in setting up collaborative projects with many partners around the world.