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Center Independent Research & Development: GSFC IRAD

SWaP Reduction for Lost-Cost Star Tracker

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

In the last two years, a low-cost star tracker has been developed for suborbital applications. Currently the system weighs ~9 lbm, uses ~16W and has a parts cost of ~$12k/unit. The goal of this IRAD is to pursue a size weight and power (SWaP) and parts cost reduction for the star tracker to further its possible mission applications.

Currently the low-cost star tracker for suborbital applications consists of two parts: a tracker head and a processing unit. The size, weight, power and cost for both parts are detailed in the table below:

Tracker Head:

  • Size = 5"x2.5"x2.5"
  • Weight = 3.5 lbm
  • Power = 4W
  • Cost = $6000

Processing Unit

  • Size = 6"x6.6"x4.4"
  • Weight = 5.3lbm
  • Power = 12W
  • Cost = $6500


The objective of the project is to pursue a reduction in size, weight and power for both the tracker as a whole, with a primary focusing on the processing unit. The objectives will be:

  • Market survey looking at among other things, smart cameras (processor and camera head combined), newer cameras with lower power usage and miniature low power embedded computers and a direction selected

  • Prototype hardware purchased

  • Star tracker algorithms ported

  • Night sky testing of prototype star tracker

  • TVAC testing of new hardware

  • Vibration testing of new hardware

The goal is to reduce the SWaP and cost by half for the tracker as a whole getting the total weight to less than 5lbm, total power to less than 8W and total parts cost to less than $6k. The focus will still be on interchangeable COTS components where possible to maintain a simple and easily upgradable system which is robust to parts obsolescence.

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