Launch Vehicle Avionics

22nd February 2015

Last year Newton Launch Systems successfully applied for a Space Innovation Voucher from the Technology Strategy Board (Innovate UK).

The Space Innovaton Voucher was used to carry out an investigative project on Launch Vehicle Avionics. This research was done in partnership with Dr Chris Bridges who leads the on board data handling group at the Surrey Space Centre.

The availability of low cost, reliable avionics is a fundamental requirement for a small launch vehicle. Expert help in this area, specifically relating to the suitability of commercially available components and systems for launch applications, fills a critical gap in the feasibility study currently being undertaken and enables Newton Launch Systems to progress to the next stage of its development programme. This expertise is required to reduce technical and commercial risk and is essential in order for the business to secure the required level of investment.

The project aimed to assess and improve the feasibility of using commercial electronics and software in critical control functions of small launch vehicles. New system architectures were considered which best exploit features of low cost, off-the-shelf platforms (COTS) as well as components from CubeSat and nano-satellites. Multi axis accelerometer / gyro or inertial measurement sensors, ranging from those embedded in smartphone platforms to customised devices such as UAV autopilots, are now widely available and are already coupled with processors and satellite navigation receivers. Smartphone technologies have also been tested as flight computers on orbiting small satellites such as SSTL's STRAND-1.

As with most electronics products, the commercial-off-the-shelf market offers some opportunity with having industrially rated parts, as well as an affordable set of manufacturers. The problem of COTS qualification has been exploited effectively across the world in the rise of small satellite missions, however such advances have not yet been applied to the challenging area of launch vehicle guidance and control: this is the area that was investigated in the project.

Follow on projects will target key areas specifically in processing, harnessing, sensor/actuator loop control/interfacing and communications as well as developing a more detailed set of requirements for launch vehicle avionics. Newton Launch Systems will continue its partnership with the Surrey Space Centre with the aim of pursuing:

  • Short term: Student projects on sensor qualification
  • Medium term: A small demonstrator