Durham University

Department of Physics

Staff profile

Publication details for Prof Richard Massey

Romualdez, L. Javier, Damaren, Chris J., Li, Lun, Galloway, Mathew N., Hartley, John W., Netterfield, C. Barth, Clark, Paul & Massey, Richard J. (2016). Precise pointing and stabilization performance for the balloon-borne imaging testbed: 2015 test flight. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part G: Journal of Aerospace Engineering

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Balloon-borne astronomy offers an attractive option for experiments that require precise pointing and attitude stabilization, due to a large reduction in the atmospheric interference observed by ground-based systems as well as the low-cost and short development time-scale compared to space-borne systems. The Balloon-borne Imaging Testbed (BIT) is an instrument designed to meet the technological requirements of high-precision astronomical missions, and is a precursor to the development of a facility-class instrument with capabilities similar to the Hubble Space Telescope. The attitude determination and control systems (ADCS) for BIT, the design, implementation, and analysis of which are the focus of this paper, compensate for compound pendulation effects and other sub-orbital disturbances in the stratosphere to within 1–2′′ (rms), while back-end optics provide further image stabilization down to 0.05′′ (not discussed here). During the inaugural test flight from Timmins, Canada in September 2015, BIT ADCS pointing and stabilization performed exceptionally, with coarse pointing and target acquisition to within <0.1° and fine stabilization to 0.68′′ (rms) over long (10–30 min) integrations. This level of performance was maintained during flight for several tracking runs that demonstrated pointing stability on the sky for more than an hour at a time. To refurbish and improve the system for the three-month flight from New Zealand in 2018, certain modifications to the ADCS need to be made to smooth pointing mode transitions and to correct for internal biases observed during the test flight. Furthermore, the level of autonomy must be increased for future missions to improve system reliability and robustness.