Optical hardware has been developed to measure the depth of defects in the Space Shuttle Orbiter’s windows. In this hardware, a mirror is translated such that its position corresponds to the defect’s depth, so the depth measurement problem is transferred to a mirror-position measurement problem. This is preferable because the mirror is internal to the optical system and thus accessible. Based on requirements supplied by the window inspectors, the depth of the defects needs to be measured over a range of 200 microns with a resolution of about 100 nm and an accuracy of about 400 nm. These same requirements then apply to measuring the position of the mirror, and in addition, since this is a scanning system, a response time of about 10 ms is needed.

A market search was conducted and no sensor that met these requirements that also fit into the available housing volume (less than one cubic inch) was found, so a novel sensor configuration was constructed to meet the requirements. This new sensor generates a nearly linearly varying magnetic field over a small region of space, which can easily be sampled, resulting in a voltage proportional to position.

Experiments were done with a range of inductor values, drive voltages, drive frequencies, and inductor shapes. A rough mathematical model was developed for the device that, in most aspects, describes how it operates and what electrical parameters should be chosen for best performance. The final configuration met all the requirements, yielding a small rugged sensor that was easy to use and had nanometer-resolution over more than the 200-μm range required.

The inductive position sensor is a compact device (potentially as small as 2 cm3), which offers nanometer-position resolution over a demonstrated range of nearly 1 mm. One of its advantages is the simplicity of its electrical design. Also, the sensor resolution is nearly uniform across its operational range, which is in contrast to eddy current and capacitive sensors whose sensitivity is dependent upon position.

This work was done by Robert Youngquist and Alyssa Garcia of Kennedy Space Center and Stephen Simmons of ASRC Aerospace Corporation. For additional information, contact the Kennedy Innovative Partnerships Program Office at 321-867-5033. KSC-13265