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Breckenridge AAS: Guiding the Future of Space GN&C

This week, we’re down the road in Breckenridge, Colorado, for the 36th Annual Guidance and Control conference. Breckenridge AAS is a technical conference, run by the American Astronautical Society that brings together experts in space guidance, navigation, and control (GN&C) with presentations and exhibitions on all aspects of the industry.
Breckenridge always looks to the future by focusing on new and innovative technologies. One session that we’ll be sure to catch this year explores the need for increasingly autonomous rendezvous, proximity operation, and docking capability for future missions. The session will look at applications such as disassembly, satellite servicing, and inspection. This is a topic close to our hearts; we’re currently sponsoring a student research project at the University of Colorado, called TRACSat, to demonstrate the translation, rotation, and station-keeping capability of CubeSats for these applications. The TRACSat project will demonstrate the proximity operations capability necessary for STRaND-2—a Surrey research project that will test a novel in-orbit autonomous docking system based on the XBOX Kinect technology. STRaND-2 could be used as a cost-effective tool for satellite maintenance, removal of space debris, or as space “building blocks.”

The Breckenridge conference embraces the wealth of GN&C research being carried out at universities through student paper sessions. One student presentation, “Using Signals of Opportunity for Deep Space Navigation” by a group from the University of Colorado at Boulder, is of particular interest to us. Deep space navigation is limited by the vast distances signals must travel. However, there are opportunities to use new technology to extend the reach of GPS into deep space. An experimental Surrey GPS receiver (the SGR-GEO) recently became the first on a civilian mission to secure a position fix above the GPS constellation orbit using a high-gain antenna to receive signals that “spill over” from the far side of Earth. The data that the SGR-GEO is currently collecting could help to navigate spacecraft in high orbits and on deep space missions in the future.

A session that runs every year at Breckenridge is “Advances in Guidance Navigation and Control Hardware.”. We’re excited to see what new technologies are making their way onto the GN&C scene. We’ve also been busy making developments on our GN&C hardware and are preparing to fly two new star tracker models this year. Star trackers are used by satellites for guidance by comparing the stars in their camera’s field of view to an on-board “star catalog” to work out which way it is facing.

Procyon star trackerThe Procyon star tracker will provide cost-effective, medium-accuracy attitude determination using new active pixel sensor (APS) technology, first trialed on the UK-DMC-2 satellite. The second model to fly this year will be the Rigel-L, a very high-accuracy star tracker, that will employ an advanced camera head unit from EADS Sodern. The Rigel-L will provide precise pointing of the imaging payload which is particularly important on high-resolution optical or SAR missions such as our sub-meter imaging S-1 spacecraft and the NovaSAR mission. It will be debuted onboard the Kazakhstan MRES mission later this year.

Further Surrey hardware developments include exciting next-generation GPS receivers to be used for a broad range of applications—the SGR-Axio and SGR-ReSI.  

Human spaceflight, momentum control, advances in GN&C software, X-rays in the future of space navigation, and navigation for future planetary science are among other topics under discussion at Breckenridge. We’re looking forward to exploring some interesting and future-looking ideas and technologies at the conference. Being up in the Rocky Mountains, we’re hoping to squeeze in a couple of ski runs too!


05 February 20130 Comments1 Comment

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