Sending small satellites into low-Earth orbit is a costly endeavor.
Private and government-sponsored launch vehicle developers are working with NASA to insert small payloads into LEO at a cost commensurate with the payload costs. The solution could come from a program called Affordable Vehicle Avionics.
“Significant contributors to the cost of launching nano-satellites to orbit are the avionics and software systems that steer and control the launch vehicles, sequence stage separation, deploy payloads, and telemeter data,” said a statement from NASA.
“The high costs of these guidance, navigation, and control avionics systems are due in part to the current practice of developing unique, single-use hardware and software for each launch. High-performance, high-reliability inertial sensor components with heritage from legacy launchers also contribute to costs. But can low-cost commercial inertial sensors work just as well?”
Scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center developed and tested a prototype low-cost avionics package for space launch vehicles that provides complete guidance, navigation, and control functionality in a tissue box-sized package – 4 inches by 4.7 inches by 2.7 inches. It weighs just two pounds.
The prototype takes advantage of commercially available, low-cost, mass-produces, miniaturized sensors.
In the test lab, the AVA successfully survived a launch environment. Simulations using digital models of rockets guided by the AVA demonstrate that it achieves all function requirements under standard launch conditions.
Ultimately, the AVA will be subjected to rigorous closed-loop performance tests that lead to it controlling a rocket to orbit. It can then be made available to the small-launch vehicle industry.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense