Optoelectronic sensor systems are being developed for use in maintaining fixed relative orientations of two scientific- instrument platforms that are in relative motion. In the original intended application, the platforms would be two spacecraft flying in formation and separated by a long baseline. In principle, sensor systems of this type could also be used in terrestrial applications for maintaining alignments between moving instrument platforms. The sensor system would utilize beacon laser beams that would be transmitted by the platforms in the normal course of scientific measurements. The frequency of the returned laser beam would differ by about 5 MHz. On each platform, the transmitted laser beam and the laser beam bounced off the other platform would be focused onto a quadrant photodetector, where the interference between the laser beams would give rise to sinusoidal (beat-frequency) signals on all four quadrants. The differences among the phases of the beat-frequency signals in the quadrants would depend on, and would be used to determine the angle between, the wave fronts of the outgoing and incoming laser beams.

This work was done by Carl Liebe, Alexander Abramovici, Jacob Chapsky, Daniel Shaddock, Charles Harb, and Frank Dekens of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Electronics/Computers category. NPO-40610

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Sensors for Pointing Moving Instruments Toward Each Other

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This article first appeared in the January, 2005 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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