Air Force funds design of better star tracker

ASHBURN, Va., 12 Oct. 2005. AeroAstro, Inc., a leading provider of small satellites and related technology products, today announced the award of a contract to continue development of a Fast Angular Rate Miniature Star Tracker (FAR-MST).

This effort, funded through the Air Force's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, builds on results of an earlier development program award to AeroAstro.

Under the original contract, a Miniature Star Tracker (MST) is being developed with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through an STTR award from the Missile Defense Agency.

The progress on the MST, which currently has prototype hardware undergoing testing, formed the foundation for the new contract awarded by the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland AFB, N.M. The objective of both of these programs, based upon technologies pioneered by AeroAstro, is to develop an all-optical star tracker and angular rate sensor that is very low in mass, volume, power consumption, and cost. Solely through image processing of rapidly acquired pictures of star fields, it simultaneously has the performance capabilities that enable it to perform the essential navigation, rotation sensing and attitude determination functions that formerly demanded much larger, power hungry and more expensive components.

Star trackers are indispensable for navigating in space, where no landmarks, terrain features or GPS systems are available. Celestial navigation is hardly new; it was used from the beginning of recorded history to determine the position of travelers on the desert and by mariners. Automatic star trackers were used at least as early as the Automatic Astro Compass Type MD-1 used to guide B-52 bombers in the 1960s.

AeroAstro's contribution is in the development of the first very compact and affordable, all-optical star tracker with autonomous lost-in-space recovery and high- angular-rate tracking capability. This system can recover from typical spacecraft tumble conditions and determine the inertial three-axis attitude of the spacecraft without first being provided an estimate. The fast angular tracking also makes it feasible to eliminate ancillary components such as gyroscopes, providing savings in cost, power, complexity, volume and mass.

"FAR-MST is a perfect example of the company's philosophy of providing affordable, high-quality products to the microsatellite industry. Even though FAR-MST is still in development, the number of customer requests we are receiving is phenomenal. Clearly this is a product that is long overdue!" said Thomas Vaneck, AeroAstro's vice president for business development.

AeroAstro, Inc. is a leader in innovative micro and nanospacecraft applications that open the space frontier to a larger and more varied customer base. AeroAstro manufactures low-cost satellite systems and components used in its own spacecraft and for spacecraft development in the U.S. and abroad. NASA, the U.S. Air Force, DARPA, commercial and academic customers have all relied on AeroAstro spacecraft and components over our 17-year history. For more information, see www.aeroastro.com.

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