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Innovative navigation platform helps Kepler's discovery mission search for habitable planets

by Rus Abz 2011-12-06 12:20


Kepler_star discovery missionSpacecraft require high precision gyroscopes as critical component of the onboard navigation system to maintain orientation in long term flight. Gyroscopes determine changes in angular direction, traditionally by virtue of a rapidly spinning, heavy mass. Spinning mass gyroscopes, originally the gyroscopes of choice for space applications, require lubrication and eventually wear out. By contrast, the newly developed micro-gyro does not have any specific life-limiting features. The resulting long life of more than 15 years is a significant plus for space applications. This new gyroscopes are lighter, cheaper, higher-performing and less complex than their conventional counterparts while uniquely designed for continuous long term operation on far space missions. 

As complex as they are their dimensions are just 4 by 4 millimeters or 0.16 by 0.16 inches, smaller than a shirt button, and their weight is less than one gram just under 0.03 ounces per unit. The small factor gyroscopes allow high level of redundancy and reliability. Several gyroscopes working together with the GPS navigation system provide high precision vital information for the spacecraft navigational platform. The multi dimensional array of diverse type gyroscopes also include solid state technology devices designed for use in space and they have no moving parts at all to provide the required levels of backup reliability and extremely long lifetime to support deep space science mission. Kepler spacecraft onboard instrumentation and navigation platformsFor the future missions scientists propose the micro-nuclear magnetic resonance quantum gyro. It could be created as a single nano package micro chip containing all the necessary navigational devices incorporated into a tiny low-power, unique self-contained timing and inertial measurement unit. On-chip self-calibration intelligent fabrics is responsible for constant internal error correction which keeps the overall stability and precision of the unit. The microchip generates highly accurate positioning, navigation, and timing information used by spacecraft onboard navigational platform.

The sophisticated navigational platform plaallows spacecrafts like NASA Kepler discoverer to survey remote areas of the Milky Way. The mission will determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy. The goal is to discover planets capable of supporting human life. The navigational platform works autonomously to support spacecraft onboard telescope operation. It continuously and simultaneously monitors the brightness of hundreds of thousands stars over the course of three and a half years. Most recently the mission confirmed discovery of the first planet in the habitable zone,  the region where there are chances of liquid water to exist on a planet's surface. Kepler spacecraft continues to discover new planet candidates. From hundreds of potential candidates some are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their host star. 

Kepler discovery of habitable zoneKepler discoverer spacecraft instruments require at least three transits to verify a signal as a planet, measuring dips in the brightness of stars, indicating that crossing planets transited those stars. The newly confirmed planet, Kepler-22b, is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth. The planet could be in predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid state, and marks a major milestone on the road to finding Earth’s twin. Kepler-22b is located six hundred light-years away. While the planet is larger than Earth, its orbit of 290 days around a sun-like star resembles that of our world. With solid onboard navigational and instrumentation platforms NASA Kepler spacecraft deep space science mission begins to answer the biggest questions about our place in the universe.

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