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Air Force seeks to prop-up lagging U.S. space star tracker manufacturing capability

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio, 13 Jan. 2013. U.S. Air Force researchers are trying to prop-up lagging domestic ability to design modern spacecraft star trackers that are affordable enough for commercial space applications. Star trackers are space-qualified optical devices that help position satellites and manned spacecraft accurately in space.

U.S. star tracker manufacturers are losing sales and market share to foreign companies that build modern star trackers priced at relatively low costs that are targeted at the commercial space market, Air Force officials say.

Officials of the Air Force Research Laboratory's Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Wright Research at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, issued a broad agency announcement (BAA-RQKM-2013-0004) last week for the Next Generation Star Tracker program, which seeks to analyze the market for a next-generation star tracker system.

The most up-to-date U.S.-produced star trackers were developed 15 to 25 years ago for high-performance NASA and military space missions, and have minimal applications in commercial space.

These star trackers are not competitive with the recent foreign models in price, size, weight, and power consumption, as well as in their ability to meet mission requirements at minimal costs, Air Force researchers say.

Without a clear technical path forward, domestic star tracker manufacturers will continue to lose market share, which will result in increased cost to NASA and military missions that require high accuracy or customized products.

Furthermore, U.S. star tracker design and manufacturing expertise, equipment, and infrastructure risks falling even farther behind foreign competition.

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The Next Generation Star Tracker program seeks to conduct technical, business, marketing, and programmatic analysis to determine the feasibility of developing a modular next-generation star tracker that uses domestically produced complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) detectors.

Air Force researchers particularly are interested in current star tracker manufacturing capabilities; future technical capabilities necessary to build a next-generation star tracker; state-of-the-art detector capabilities; and the markets for a modular star tracker.

Air Force researchers say the have about $475,000 for this program, and plan to award two study contracts. Advisers to the Air Force on this program are the Northrop Grumman Corp. Technical Services Sector in Beavercreek, Ohio; Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, Calif.; and The Analytical Sciences Corp. (TASC) in Chantilly, Va. Industry proposals may be reviewed by these companies.

For questions or concerns contact the Air Force's Laura Ortiz by phone at 937-656-9883, or by e-mail at

More information is online at

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