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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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I am Scientess, hear me roar. [20100426|15:17]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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On Ada Lovelace day (24th March), [personal profile] rmc28 asked me to describe my work. It occurred to me that there may be a fair number of people who don't know exactly what I do for a living. If you've been reading my journal for a while, you've probably figured out that I am a woman and that I have a career background in science and technology. If you want to know a bit more about what it's like to be an ops engineer for a space mission, click the cut.

So what do you do?

My title is Operations Engineer for the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. I hold joint responsibility for the care and feeding of the magnetometer instrument on board the Cassini orbiter. My work is based at Imperial College London, which is the PI* institute for the magnetometer.

Tell me more...

As the name suggests, a magnetometer measures magnetic fields. I'm part of a small team comprised of engineers and scientists that design, build and provide post-launch support for these instruments. None of us started out in our careers thinking, hey, I know what I'll do, I'll go into remote sensing. One person used to work in the oil industry, another for GCHQ, another in oceanography, and I used to be an experimental physical chemist. I think we all perform pretty well in our new roles.

My daily work usually consists of conducting health & safety checks on the instrument, attending telecons to decide what the spacecraft will be doing in the future and constructing pointing design for the spacecraft when our instrument is prime - meaning we have control over what the spacecraft does.

My position affords me a good deal of flexibility. Even though my title is quite specific, I do a number of other things. I archive the data for Cassini. I help to teach a third-year course (Instrumentation for Physics). I calibrate and archive the data for the Cluster mission, which is a multi-spacecraft mission orbiting the Earth. I'm helping to organise the science team meetings for a future mission to Jupiter. I'm also applying for a grant to put a ground station in a school with the capability to track small satellites. We hope will allow the school to provide support for a future CubeSat** mission led by Imperial College.

What do you like most about your work?

The last paragraph in my answer to the previous question links to this one. One of the things I'm allowed to do as part of my job is spent two days a month doing outreach. It's incredibly rewarding to speak to audiences of young students and to get them to do what is actually a rather difficult experiment without them perceiving it that way.

* PI == Principal Investigator
** CubeSat == Tiiiiny satellite. A CubeSat is an off-the-shelf satellite, 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm, or approximately the size of a square box of facial tissues. They're designed to be cheap, easy for, say, a bunch of undergraduates to pop a sensor on board to do a bit of science and can be launched by the bucketload into low Earth orbit.


Any questions? Tell me about your work. Go on, go on, go on.

Mrs. Doyle commands you
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sekl
2010-04-26 16:07 (UTC)
Are you sure you won't have a cup of tea?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-04-27 10:35 (UTC)
Ooh, no thanks, I'm stuffed.
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From: jerrycoat
2010-04-26 19:29 (UTC)
Can you describe the outputs of a magnetometer to a geographer?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-04-28 10:50 (UTC)
I can give it a go! A single-axis magnetometer outputs a current that varies with the strength of the ambient magnetic field. The analog signal is converted into a digital one. That number gives the field strength, usually recorded in nanoTesla. For reference, the Earth's field at the surface is around 30-60 microTesla. In space, outside the magnetospheres of the planets, it's much less - tens of nanoTesla.

To make a vector measurement (strength and direction) of the magnetic field at a given moment, all three dimensions have to be measured simultaneously. This is achieved by using a triaxial magnetometer, which has three sensors placed at right angles to one another.

Does that make sense?
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[User Picture]From: giles
2010-05-15 05:01 (UTC)
You know that conversation Mrs. Doyle has with the guy, where he says he can't have any tea because there's a 30% chance he'll die? It's either more or less funny when your kid has severe allergies.
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