Richard Baughen, Instrument Engineer – Space, Department of Physics

“The instrument was shipped off to the Netherlands and set up for us by colleagues at the European Space Agency. I was able to remotely log in to our instrument and control it from my living room…” 

I work as part of a team building a scientific instrument called a magnetometer that will be sent on a spacecraft to Jupiter and its moons in 2022.   

When the pandemic started, we found ourselves stuck at home alongside the rest of the country. After a couple of weeks tidying up documentation, we knew that to make real progress we had to get back into the lab. You cannot build a magnetometer in your kitchen… or can you? 

With great help from the department, some of us were back in very limited capacity from early May and things could start to move. 

However, that led us to a new dilemma. Sending an instrument to Jupiter requires some bespoke testing which is only available in a limited number of facilities across Europe and travelling in May was not really on the cards, so we had to follow the rest of the world by testing remotely. The instrument was shipped off to the Netherlands and set up for us by colleagues at the European Space Agency. I was able to remotely log in to our instrument and control it from my living room – a rather surreal experience but one that worked surprisingly well. When the instrument returned three weeks later the test campaign had been very successful, but the challenges were not yet over. 

Not all of the instrument had been built and with only limited numbers allowed back in the lab, certain manufacturing could still not continue. It left only one logical choice: send the lab home. We packed up crates of equipment and shipped it off to various kitchens and living rooms across London where work could continue safely. It was a resounding success and all the parts are now back in the lab where final integration can begin.  

While you cannot quite build a magnetometer in your kitchen, we certainly gave it a go from home! 

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