Northrop Grumman will provide a critical role in the next phase of NASA’s Mars exploration plans, with the company’s LN-200S inertial measurement unit (IMU) to provide extended life inertial navigation for NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) Perseverance Mars rover.
The design life of the Perseverance rover mission is about 1,071 Earth days (1.5 Mars years); however, NASA JPL required Northrop Grumman’s technology to be rigorously tested to double that time.
This is a performance threshold the company felt confident it could meet after the success of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which launched in 2003 and featured the LN-200S. Both missions had a 90 Earth day design life, but the Opportunity rover ended up stretching to almost 15 Earth years (eight Mars years).
Brandon White, vice president, navigation and positioning systems, Northrop Grumman, explained, "Northrop Grumman’s LN-200S has significant space heritage, offering proven capability and reliability in the demanding space flight environment on board many spacecraft in low earth, GEO orbit, and has travelled to a variety of heavenly bodies including Earth’s moon, Mars and asteroids."
The LN-200S — part of the LN-200 product line of fibre-optic gyroscope (FOG) IMUs — will provide attitude and acceleration information throughout the Perseverance Mars rover surface mission.
It will be mounted deep inside the rover as the vehicle traverses the planet’s surface and drills to collect core samples. The low cost, small size, weight and power (SWAP) LN-200S features three FOG gyroscopes and three silicon Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) accelerometers in a hermetically sealed package ideal for space applications, including asteroid and planetary probes.
"Our IMU will play an essential part in the Perseverance Rover’s navigation as NASA pursues its long-term scientific mission," White explained.
The rigorous process to test the IMU’s extended life capability began more than three years ago. Ultimately, NASA JPL concluded that the standard LN-200S product met the requirements for the Perseverance Rover without any modification.
Northrop Grumman’s proven reliability in previous Mars rover missions, which also includes the still operating Curiosity that has been working on Mars almost eight years beyond its initial two-year mission, is a result of extensive collaboration between Northrop Grumman teams in Woodland Hills, California, and Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Perseverance rover mission is currently expected to launch out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, in July or August.
More than 35,000 LN-200 IMUs have been delivered since 1994, and they have been used on a variety of applications from undersea to outer space.
The small, lightweight IMU product line is available in several configurations including the base LN-200, ITAR-free LN-200C, the enhanced LN-200E (with ~2X increased performance), and upcoming LN-200HP (with ~7X increase performance).
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