Miniaturized Astrometric Alignment Sensor

Miniaturized Astrometric Alignment Sensor (GSC-TOPS-234)
Advances miniature satellite capabilities for astrophysical measurements
Miniature satellites, sometimes called CubeSats, are mainly used for space research. These satellites are employed to demonstrate spacecraft technologies intended for small satellites or that present questionable feasibility and are unlikely to justify the cost of a larger satellite. Scientific experiments with unproven underlying theory may also find themselves aboard because their low cost can justify higher risks. There is a need for space-qualified pointing and alignment stellar sensor hardware. Alignment sensors can be used for virtual telescope demonstrations and other satellite experiments in heliophysics. Ultimately, dual spacecraft space telescopes capable of imaging solar flares in the x-ray band, high energy UV solar imaging, and gamma-ray imaging of galactic cores of stellar systems require alignment sensors to some degree. The Miniaturized Astrometric Alignment Sensor advances alignment stellar sensor hardware.

The Technology
The Miniaturized Astrometric Alignment Sensor advances satellite capabilities for astrophysical measurements, necessary for formation flying, relative navigation, and virtual telescope capabilities. The sensor is a single assembly consisting of a small, low powered camera assembly. The sensor detects stellar objects from which both stellar and object tracking are performed. The sensors components consist of a low power camera assembly, interchangeable lenses, camera power supply, and image processing software and algorithms. The system functions by searching and identifying objects in the camera's field of view and tracking the objects against a selected star pattern with a central body of interest in the sensor's field of view. The Miniaturized Astrometric Alignment Sensor makes it possible to measure a spacecrafts altitude and orientation with respect to known stellar objects. The instrument takes an image of a patch of sky, identifies the stars in that field of view, and compares the field view with a stored star map. The data is processed with a dedicated processor attached to the instrument to spell out the attitude and orientation of a spacecraft.
This star-studded image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows us a portion of Messier 11, an open star cluster in the southern constellation of Scutum (the Shield). Messier 11 is also known as the Wild Duck Cluster, as its brightest stars form a V shape that somewhat resembles a flock of ducks in flight. Messier 11 is one of the richest and most compact open clusters currently known. By investigating the brightest, hottest main sequence stars in the cluster, astronomers estimate that it formed roughly 220 million years ago. Open clusters tend to contain fewer and younger stars than their more compact globular cousins, and Messier 11 is no exception: at its center lie many blue stars, the hottest and youngest of the clusters few thousand stellar residents. The lifespans of open clusters are also relatively short compared to those of globular ones; stars in open clusters are spread farther apart and are thus not as strongly bound to each other by gravity, causing them to be more easily and quickly drawn away by stronger gravitational forces. As a result, Messier 11 is likely to disperse in a few million years as its members are ejected one by one, pulled away by other celestial objects in the vicinity.
  • Low power
  • Miniaturized for various applications

  • Formation flying technologies
  • Relative navigation
  • Virtual telescopes
Technology Details

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