Honeybee Robotics improves TORC satellite attitude control system with NASA SBIR Phase IIe Award

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Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms Corporation today announced that it has secured a SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) Phase II Enhancement award for the development of an improved Tiny Operationally Responsive CMG (TORC). This development will provide a platform for guidance, navigation and control (GNC) engineers and researchers to seamlessly implement advanced steering laws in the TORC avionics with minimal redundant engineering.

Exchanging momentum quickly using less power than similarly sized attitude control actuators, such as reaction wheels, TORC modules enhance the capabilities of small satellites with limited mass, volume, and power resources. Enhanced agility enables small satellites to take on new missions in data acquisition, imaging, and intelligence gathering.

Small satellites in the 15-100 kg range, ranging multi-U CubeSats to microsatellites, are of growing interest for scientific research and space situational awareness. Current reaction wheel technology to position such satellites for data acquisition, solar orientation and data downlinking has been unable to match the agility required for new mission concepts. TORCs represent a new approach that enables high-agility maneuvers with unprecedented accelerations. As an example, individual TORC module can accelerate a 24-kg satellite at 3 degrees per second.

“TORCs provide significant improvements in the performance of small satellites, and this new development will make it easier than ever for satellite developers to implement complex steering laws,” said Erik Mumm, Vice President & Director, Flight Systems Group at Honeybee Robotics. “We’re looking forward to gaining flight heritage with this system in 2013, as the market for smaller, high-performance satellites is heating up.”

TORCs are designed with CubeSat and microsatellite standards in mind. A 4-module TORC-based attitude control system, along with control electronics, fits easily within a 1U CubeSat structure. TORC modules may also be combined into combinations of multi-CMG arrays (box-90, pyramidal, etc.) to create an attitude control system capable of full three-axis control. An integrated scissored-pair arrangement, TORC-SP, can seamlessly replace small satellite reaction wheels.

TORC units are scheduled to launch aboard a microsatellite for a flight demonstration mission in late 2013.