A coarse-positioning instrument is built around a three-axis magnetometer. The magnetometer is of a type that is made of inexpensive hardware and is suitable for use aboard spacecraft orbiting no more than 1,000 km above the surface of the Earth. A data processor programmed with suitable software and equipped with a central processing unit, random-access memory, programmable read-only memory, and interface circuitry for communication with external equipment are added to the basic magnetometer to convert it into a coarse-positioning instrument. Although the instrument was conceived for use aboard spacecraft, it could be useful for navigation on Earth under some circumstances.

A major feature of the proposed instrument is an ability to generate a coarse estimate of its position in real time (that is, without start-up delay). Algorithms needed to solve the position equations have been developed. These include algorithms to work around gaps in measurement data that arise from a singularity near the minimum in the magnetic field of the Earth.

Some work has been done to develop a prototype of this instrument incorporating a standard three-axis flux-gate magnetometer and a Pentium P-5 (or equivalent) processor with a clock frequency of 120 MHz. Alternatively, the processor could be of the '486 class. A computer model of the instrument has been completed and tested.

This work was done by Eleanor Ketchum of Goddard Space Flight Center. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Physical Sciences category. This invention has been patented by NASA (U.S.Patent No.6,114,995). Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to the Patent Counsel, Goddard Space Flight Center; (301) 286-7351. Refer to GSC-13880.