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Honeywell debuts MEMS sensor to help small sats navigate

June 21, 2021  - By
The HG4934 Space Rate Sensor is compared in size to a typical smartphone. (Photo: Honeywell)

The HG4934 Space Rate Sensor is compared in size to a typical smartphone. (Photo: Honeywell)

New, smaller sensors provide high-performance navigation at a low cost with less power consumption, company said.

Honeywell has unveiled a new rate sensor to help small satellites navigate increasingly crowded orbits above the Earth’s surface. The new micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS)-based product provides low cost and power consumption in a smaller size than previous Honeywell offerings, while maintaining high performance levels. It is suitable for customers building smaller and lower-cost satellites, according to Honeywell.

Honeywell’s HG4934 space rate sensor is roughly the same size and weight (145 grams) as a baseball. Compared to Honeywell’s previous rate sensors, it consumes only one-fifth the electric power, is more than 32 times lighter, and is 60 times smaller. It also is more tolerant of radiation, a key attribute in space.

“With this new sensor, our customers can build smaller, lower cost satellites that are just as capable and reliable as their traditional predecessors, which will allow them to field new satellite technologies like 5G telecommunications or high-bandwidth global Internet,” said Mike Elias, vice president and general manager, Space, Honeywell Aerospace. “Furthermore, the number of satellites is only increasing, which leads to more crowded orbits. It’s critical that our customers have highly precise navigation solutions to help prevent accidents, which could knock functional satellites out of orbit.”

A space rate sensor, also known as an inertial reference unit or IRU, is an inertial sensor composed of three gyroscopes that work together to sense rotation rates. They determine an aircraft or spacecraft’s change in rotational attitude over time and allow it to move from one location to another without using any external information. It can also serve as a backup solution to provide redundancy if other navigation systems fail.

Celestial navigation options like star trackers are a popular method of obtaining pointing directions for satellites and spacecraft. This form of navigation uses angular measurements between objects in space (stars, planets, etc.) and the horizon to calculate location. However, sometimes these star trackers are blinded by the sun or affected by thruster gases. In this case, Honeywell’s HG4934 can act as a secondary method of attitude determination.

Honeywell’s HG4934 Space Rate Sensor is available now for commercial, defense, and science applications. The first deliveries to customers began at the end of 2020.

About the Author:


Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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