NASA Ames Research Center has developed a novel, low-cost, self-contained guidance system for small payload operators. Small satellites are becoming ever more capable of performing valuable missions for both government and commercial customers; however, currently these satellites can only be launched affordably as secondary payloads, which makes it difficult for the small satellite mission to launch when needed, to the desired orbit, and with acceptable risk.
NASA’s Affordable Vehicle Avionics (AVA) technology offers access to space for small payload operators with an ability to have their own dedicated launch to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), when and where they need. AVA demonstrates a self-contained guidance system that can be integrated and operated at a fraction of the recurring costs of existing units.
Significant contributors to the cost of launching nano-satellites to orbit are the software, and Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) avionics systems that steer and control the launch vehicles, sequence stage separation, deploy pay-loads, and telemeter data. The high costs of these GNC avionics systems are due in part to the current practice of developing unique, single-use hardware and software for each launch.
AVA includes a common suite of GNC functionality paired with advanced software for space launch vehicles in a package smaller than a tissue box (100 × 120 × 69 mm, or 4 × 4.7 × 2.7”), and with a mass of less than 0.84 kg (2 pounds). The invention provides a common suite of avionics and software that delivers affordable, capable GNC and telemetry avionics with application to multiple nano-launch vehicles at 1 percent the cost of current state-of-the-art avionics.
The AVA approach to drastically reduce costs includes the use of low-cost, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) microelectromechanical system (MEMS) inertial measurement unit sensors; increased navigation precision by fusing Global Positioning System and magnetometry with novel extended Kalman filter propagation; a streamlined cookbook approach to launch vehicle developers for integration and tests via high-fidelity, six-degrees-of-freedom rocket models; and validating navigation and control on early test flights.