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Star Trackers

The star tracker system is part of the orbiter's navigation system. Its two units are located just forward and to the left of the commander's plus X window in a well outside the pressurized crew compartment-an extension of the navigation base on which the IMUs are mounted. The star trackers are slightly inclined off the vehicle's negative Y and negative Z axes, for which they are named. The star trackers are used to align the IMUs on board the orbiter as well as to track targets and provide line-of-sight vectors for rendezvous calculations.

Alignment of the IMUs is required approximately every 12 hours to correct IMU drift, within one to two hours before major on-orbit thrusting duration or after a crewman optical alignment sight IMU alignment. IMU alignment is accomplished by using the star trackers to measure the line-of-sight vector to at least two stars. With this information, the GPC calculates the orientation between these stars and the orbiter to define the orbiter's attitude. A comparison of this attitude with the attitude measured by the IMU provides the correction factor necessary to null the IMU error.

The GPC memory contains inertial information for 50 stars chosen for their brightness and their ability to provide complete sky coverage.

The star trackers are oriented so that the optical axis of the negative Z star tracker is pointed approximately along the negative Z axis of the orbiter and the optical axis of the negative Y star tracker is pointed approximately along the negative Y axis of the orbiter. Since the navigation base provides the mount for the IMUs and star trackers, the star tracker line of sight is referenced to the navigation base and the orbiter coordinate system; thus, the GPC knows where the star tracker is pointed and its orientation with respect to the IMUs.

Each star tracker has a door to protect it during ascent and entry. The doors are opened on orbit to permit use of the star trackers.

To enable the star tracker doors to open, the star tracker power minus Y and minus Z switches on panel O6 must be positioned to on. The star tracker door control sys 1 and sys 2 switches on panel O6 control one three-phase ac motor on each door. Positioning the sys 1 switch to open controls motor control logic and drives the minus Y and minus Z star tracker door by electromechanical actuators to the open position. Limit switches stop the motors when the doors are open and control a talkback indicator above the sys 1 switch. The talkback indicator indicates when the doors are open. Setting the sys 2 switch to open controls a redundant ac motor and electromechanical actuators to open the minus Y and minus Z star tracker door, and limit switches stop the motors when the doors are open and control the talkback indicator above the sys 2 switch in the same manner as for system 1. Positioning the sys 1 switch to close drives the minus Y and minus Z door closed; the talkback indicator above the switch indicates cl. The door opening or closing time with two motors is six seconds; with one motor, it is 12 seconds. Setting the sys 2 switch to close drives the system 2 motors and closes the minus Y and minus Z door; the talkback indicator above the switch indicates cl . The indicators indicate barberpole when a door is between open or closed. The off position of the sys 1 or 2 switch removes power from the corresponding motor control logic circuitry.

The difference between the inertial attitudes defined by the star tracker and the IMU is processed by software and results in IMU torquing angles. If the IMU gimbals are physically torqued or the matrix defining its orientation is recomputed, the effects of the IMU gyro drift are removed and the IMU is restored to its inertial attitude. If the IMU alignment is in error by more than 1.4 degrees, the star tracker is unable to acquire and track stars. In this case, the crewman optical alignment sight must be used to realign the IMUs to within 1.4 degrees; the star trackers can then be used to realign the IMUs more precisely. The star tracker cannot be used if the IMU alignment error is greater than 1.4 degrees because the angles the star tracker is given for searching are based on current knowledge of the orbiter attitude, which is based on IMU gimbal angles. If that attitude is greatly in error, the star tracker may acquire and track the wrong star.

In addition to aligning the IMUs, the star trackers can be used to provide angular data from the orbiter to a target. This capability can be used during rendezvous or proximity operations with a target satellite.

The star tracker includes a light shade assembly and an electronics assembly mounted on top of the navigation base. The light shade assembly defines the tracker field of view (10 degrees square). Its shutter mechanism may be opened manually by the crew using an entry on the cathode ray tube display, or it can be opened and closed automatically by a bright object sensor or target suppress software. The bright object sensor reacts before a bright object, such as the sun or moon, can damage the star tracker (the sensor has a larger field of view than the star tracker shutter). The target suppress software reacts to a broad light source (such as the sunlit Earth), which may not trip the bright object sensor but could produce overall illumination large enough to cause photo currents larger than desired.

The electronics assembly contains an image dissector tube mounted on the underside of the navigation base. The star tracker itself does not move-the field of view is scanned electronically. The star tracker may be commanded to scan the entire field of view or a smaller offset field of view (1 degree square) about a point defined by horizontal and vertical offsets. An object is tracked when the proper intensity and the correct location are sensed. Star tracker outputs are the horizontal and vertical position within the field of view of the object being tracked and its intensity.

There is no redundancy management for the star tracker assemblies; they operate independently, and either can do the whole task. They can be operated either separately or concurrently.

The star tracker subsystem operating program, or SOP, supports the modes that are commanded manually: self-test, star track, target track, break track and term/idle. Self-test consists of software and hardware tests. In the star track mode, the star tracker does an offset scan search for the star, acquires it and tracks it. The star may be selected by the flight crew or GPC; in either case, field-of-view and occultation checks are made. Target track is the same as star track, but the flight crew must specify the target and its threshold. Break track forces the star tracker to stop tracking a star and to perform a search scan from the current location to track the next star it acquires. In the term/idle mode, the star tracker continues its operation, but all star tracker software processing ceases.

In addition, the star tracker SOP maintains the star table. When a star tracker has acquired and tracked a star and the data has passed software checks, the star identification, time tag and line-of-sight vector are stored. The identification and time elapsed since time tag are displayed in the star table. When two or three stars are in the table, the angular difference between their line-of-sight vectors is displayed. The difference between the star tracker and star catalog angular differences is displayed as an error. The star tracker SOP selects line-of-sight vectors of two stars in the star table for IMU alignment and outputs an align ena discrete. Align ena signifies that the star data meets certain criteria that allows the repositioning of the IMU inertial platforms. The software selects the star pair whose angular difference is closest to 90 degrees or the pair whose elapsed time of entry into the table is less than 60 minutes. The flight crew may manually override the SOP selection or clear the table if desired.

The SOP also determines and displays star tracker status.

The contractor for the star trackers is Ball Brothers, Boulder, Colo.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 01/08/2003
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