Tech Briefs

A patent disclosure document discusses a photonic method for connecting a spacecraft with a launch vehicle upper-stage telemetry system as a means for monitoring a spacecraft’s health and status during and right after separation and deployment. This method also provides an efficient opto-coupled capability for prelaunch built-in-test (BIT) on the ground to enable more efficient and timely integration, preflight checkout, and a means to obviate any local EMI (electromagnetic interference) during integration and test. Additional utility can be envisioned for BIT on other platforms, such as the International Space Station (ISS).

The photonic telemetry system implements an optical free-space link with a divergent laser transmitter beam spoiled over a significant cone angle to accommodate changes in spacecraft position without having to angle track it during deployment. Since the spacecraft may lose attitude control and tumble during deployment, the transmitted laser beam interrogates any one of several low-profile meso-scale retro-reflective spatial light modulators (SLMs) deployed over the surface of the spacecraft. The return signal beam, modulated by the SLMs, contains health, status, and attitude information received back at the launch vehicle. Very compact low-power opto-coupler technology already exists for the received signal (requiring relatively low bandwidths, e.g., ≤200 kbps) to enable transfer to a forward pass RF relay from the launch vehicle to TDRSS (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System) or another recipient. The link would be active during separation and post-separation to monitor spacecraft health, status, attitude, or other data inventories until attitude recovery and ground control can be re-established. An optical link would not interfere with the existing upper stage telemetry and beacon systems, thus meeting launch vehicle EMI environmental constraints.

This work was done by K.B. Fielhauer and B.G. Boone for Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-14832-1

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