ESA GNC Conference Papers Repository

Hybrid Navigation for Launchers Using Multiple Low-Cost Inertial Measurement Units
Tiago Milhano, Julia Gente, Dimitrios Gkoutzos
Presented at:
Sopot 2023
Full paper:

The NewSpace landscape for microlaunchers is highly competitive. The cost is one of the main drivers in this competition. Several microlauncher companies have decided to outsource the GNC sub-system to external providers, procuring low-cost commercial-of-the-shelf solutions. Lately, Astos has been involved in several activities related with GNC for (micro-)launchers. Astos’ work has been focused on providing GNC development tools and flexible and easily reconfigurable GNC software that can be applied to a wide range of launch vehicles. Navigation is one of the main drivers for launcher orbital injection accuracy and it is also one of the main drivers for cost in the GNC sub-system. Usually, this cost is driven by the Inertial Navigation System (INS) or Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), in which expensive technologies are employed such as ring-laser gyroscopes. In traditional inertial propagation algorithms, errors are accumulated due to integration resulting in a steady divergence of the position and attitude estimate. Therefore, the performance of the navigation mainly depends on the performance of the IMU. This makes an investment into a highly accurate inertial sensors, especially the gyroscope, necessary to meet the navigation requirements. Lately, the use of hybrid navigation solutions that fuse the inertial measurements with Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) measurements has diminished, in some degree, the reliance of the navigation algorithm on the IMU performance. Although this is true for translational states, as position and velocity, the same cannot be said with the same degree of validity for attitude determination and, more specifically, for roll angle estimation. One possible way to reduce the cost of inertial sensors is by using microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). The advantages of using this technology, apart from the large reduction in cost, are the significant saves in mass and power required to operate these sensors. The disadvantage is clearly the lower performance, especially in high-vibration environments such as encountered in launcher vehicles. Lately, efforts to improve the performance of MEMS navigation solutions were driven by the demand of industries such as the wearables and unmanned aerial systems. This led to the development of solutions that utilize multiple low-cost inertial measurement units. By that, the hardware cost is not gravely increased in exchange for higher navigation accuracy, reliability, and redundancy. In this paper, a navigation algorithm is proposed that incorporates the measurements from multiple low-grade MEMS IMUs. The algorithm implements parallel Extended Kalman Filters (EKF), one for each IMU, combining the inertial measurements with the position, velocity, and time solutions provided by a single GNSS receiver. The algorithm has a loosely coupled architecture and the inertial propagation is regularly reset using the fused estimates of the vehicle’s state and IMU biases (closed-loop implementation). The navigation solution, providing estimates of position, velocity, and attitude, is then a combination of the individual EKF results through weighted means based on the covariance of the individual estimates. This formulation utilizing parallel filters is called in the literature as Federated Kalman Filter architecture. An analysis will be presented relating the performance of the navigation architecture with the number of sensors used and their distribution on the launch vehicle’s body. The assessment is performed with relation to a baseline navigation architecture also implementing a loosely coupled, closed-loop, hybrid structure but employing a single low-grade IMU. The analysis will determine the most promising sensor constellation, based on navigation performance, cost and implementation complexity. The selected multiple IMU solution is then compared with two different navigation architectures: Strapdown inertial propagation utilizing a single high-grade IMU; and hybrid navigation scheme implementing a loosely coupled, closed-loop architecture with a medium grade IMU. The performance evaluation is conducted utilizing simulated measurements retrieved from high-fidelity 6 degrees-of-freedom non-linear simulator of a representative microlauncher scenario. The simulators’ dynamics, kinematics, environment, and sensor modelling are provided by the ASTOS tool. Astos intends to further study the feasibility and performance of the proposed Inertial/GNSS hybrid navigation architecture with multiple IMUs. In the roadmap for raising the algorithm’s technology readiness level, more advanced simulations are foreseen, with improved sensor error modelling and previously unmodelled dynamical effects such as flexibility and sloshing. Additionally, processor- and hardware-in-the-loop tests with real sensor data are planned.