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Inertial Stellar Compass Operational in First Space Flight

January 5, 2007

Draper's compass combines a star camera and MEMS gyros with a microprocessor to provide full 3-axis attitude determination. The flight validation system represents a major leap forward in navigation sensors and MEMS technology for space applications.

CAMBRIDGE, MA /BUSINESS WIRE/ -- Draper Laboratory's Inertial Stellar Compass (ISC) is now fully operational onboard the TacSat-2 spacecraft, representing the first use of a MEMS gyro in a complete spacecraft attitude determination system. TacSat-2 was launched on December 16 from Wallops Flight Facility. Following basic spacecraft commissioning activities, the ISC was first turned on December 27 and two days of preliminary functional tests show the instrument to be working perfectly.

The ISC combines a star camera and MEMS gyros with a microprocessor to provide a full 3-axis attitude determination system in a low-power (3.6 W) and low-mass (2.9 kg) package, less than one-half the power and mass of conventional systems. Developed at Draper Laboratory and using Draper's own MEMS Tuning Fork Gyro package, the flight validation represents a major leap forward in navigation sensors and MEMS technology for space applications.

The fully autonomous, self-initializing instrument has operated flawlessly since being powered up on December 27. Requiring no more than power and an occasional clock update from the host spacecraft, the ISC initializes upon startup, acquires and identifies stars from its own star catalog, and uses its "lost in space" algorithms to determine the direction in which it is pointing. If all continues to go well aboard the TacSat-2 spacecraft, a series of dedicated tests are planned for the coming weeks that will acquire extensive data to verify ISC performance under a wide variety of conditions.

The ISC development was funded by NASA's New Millennium Program, which is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. The TacSat-2 spacecraft was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and is operated out of the AFRL command center at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, NM.

The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. is a nonprofit engineering research and development laboratory dedicated to providing technological solutions in areas including guidance, navigation, and control; highly reliable embedded software; autonomous systems; miniature, low-power electronics; and biomedical engineering. Draper serves the national interest through applied research, engineering development, and technology transfer.

For more information about Draper and the Inertial Stellar Compass, visit the laboratory's Web site.

For more information about NASA's New Millennium Program, visit the agency's Web site.

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