Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA engineer advances new daytime star tracker

29.01.2015

Scientists who use high-altitude scientific balloons have high hopes for their instruments in the future. Although the floating behemoths that carry their instruments far into the stratosphere can stay aloft for days on end, data collection typically happens during the night when starlight can be detected. The instruments that operate during the day are limited in their field of view due to overbearing sunlight.

An engineer at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility (WFF), located on Virginia's Eastern Shore, is working on a low-cost, off-the-shelf solution to overcome the challenges of collecting data in daylight.

Under WFF's Balloon Program, engineer Scott Heatwole and his team are developing a precision attitude sensor or star tracker that would be able to locate points of reference, or in other words, stars, during daylight hours. These points of reference serve as landmarks that help orient the instrument so that it can find the target of interest.

The star tracker is being developed specifically for the Wallops Arc Second Pointer (WASP), which would use the star tracker's data to point a balloon-borne scientific payload with incredible accuracy and stability. Currently, WASP usually employs the commonly used ST5000 star tracker. However, this device cannot image in the daytime even at 120,000 feet where scientific balloons operate. Though relatively dark at those altitudes, the scattering of sunlight off the atmosphere can overwhelm the starlight in most star cameras.

"A precision attitude sensor capable of working in the daylight would extend science operations through the day which would significantly increase the amount of science collected," Heatwole said. "Currently, the only precision attitude sensor available in daytime is a sun sensor, and this isn't ideal because it provides only two axes of attitude and is not precise over a range of targets across the sky."

Although others have developed custom star trackers that enable around-the-clock science gathering, no one has pulled together an inexpensive, ready-to-go package that includes cameras, computers, and the algorithms necessary to process data and eliminate excess visible light in real time. "That's what we're trying to do," Heatwole said, adding that his daytime star tracker consists of a commercial firewire camera attached to a lens and baffle that help filter out visible light, allowing it to sense points of reference in the near-infrared wavelength bands.

In 2014, a prototype of the device flew on two WASP missions. The first, the flight of the HyperSpectral Imager for Climate Science (HySICS) collected radiance data as WASP pointed the instrument toward the Earth, the sun, and the Moon. The goal was to see what the star tracker saw at 120,000 feet.

The second WASP mission, launched a couple months later in October, carried the Observatory for Planetary Investigations from the Stratosphere (OPIS). Its mission was to gather time measurements of Jupiter's atmospheric structure -- a challenge for the new star tracker because the gas giant is a bright object.

"Our algorithm didn't work as we had hoped," Heatwole said, adding that it did not filter out the excess light as expected.

Heatwole, however, is unfazed. Over the coming months, he plans to fine-tune the algorithms to eliminate the extra light experienced during the OPIS mission and then retest the technology during a sounding rocket flight this summer and additional WASP missions in 2016 and 2017.

"We're trying to increase the capabilities of WASP," Heatwole explained. "No company is going to go out and build this. No one is going to develop an off-the-shelf, low-cost daytime star tracker and put all the components in one package. WASP requires an attitude sensor that is capable in the daytime. That's what we hope to create."

For more Goddard technology news, visit:

http://gsfctechnology.gsfc.nasa.gov

Lori Keesey | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>