Space rate sensor helps small satellites navigate crowded orbits

June 22, 2021 // By Rich Pell
Space rate sensor helps small satellites navigate crowded orbits
Aerospace and industrial giant Honeywell has announced a new rate sensor specifically intended to help small satellites navigate increasingly crowded orbits above the Earth's surface.

At only 145 grams, the HG4934 Space Rate Sensor is roughly the same size and weight as a baseball. The micro-electromechanical system (MEMS)-based device, says the company, will provide lower cost and power consumption in a smaller size, all while maintaining high levels of performance - an ideal fit for customers building smaller and lower-cost satellites.

The sensor consumes about one-fifth the amount of electric power, and it is more than 32 times lighter and 60 times smaller than the company's current offerings. It is also more tolerant of radiation, a key attribute in space, and uses the company's best-in-class sensor technology.

“With this new sensor," says Mike Elias, vice president and general manager, Space, Honeywell Aerospace, "our customers can build smaller, lower-cost satellites that are just as capable and reliable as their traditional predecessors, which will allow them to field new satellite technologies like 5G telecommunications or high-bandwidth global internet. Furthermore, the number of satellites is only increasing, which leads to more crowded orbits. It's critical that our customers have highly precise navigation solutions to help prevent accidents, which could knock functional satellites out of orbit."

A space rate sensor - also known as an inertial reference unit or IRU - is a type of inertial sensor that is composed of three gyroscopes that work together to sense rotation rates. They determine an aircraft or spacecraft's change in rotational attitude over time and allow it to move from one location to another without using any external information. It can also serve as a back-up solution to provide extra redundancy in case other navigation systems fail.

Celestial navigation options like star trackers are a popular method of obtaining pointing directions for satellites and spacecraft. This form of navigation uses angular measurements between objects in space (e.g., stars, planets, etc.) and the horizon to calculate location. However, sometimes these star trackers are blinded by the sun or affected by thruster gases.


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