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Northrop Grumman Provides Navigation Systems For Mars Rovers

A Mars Exploration Rover gets a walk about during testing at JPL last year

 Woodland Hills - Jun 27, 2003
NASA will depend once again on key navigational aids produced by Northrop Grumman when it launches its Mars Exploration Rovers and spacecraft planned for later this month. The mission will attempt to determine whether water once existed on the planet.

The company's Navigation Systems Division produces LN-200S inertial measurement units (IMUs) that are used by both spacecraft and Mars Exploration Rovers. These units sense acceleration and angular motion and convert them to outputs that are used by vehicle control systems for guidance.

"The Northrop Grumman LN-200S is a low-weight, space-tested, fiber optic inertial measurement unit that has proven its reliability in challenging environmental conditions during more than 12 space missions," said Richard Wujek, LN-200S program manager at Northrop Grumman.

One IMU is mounted on the backshell, or heat shield, of the spacecraft's entry vehicle, while another is installed in the rover. Both units maintain spacecraft attitude information and measure deceleration during descent into the Martian atmosphere to help determine when a parachute can be deployed safely to slow the spacecraft during entry.

The rover IMU provides attitude and acceleration information during surface operations, and positions the rover's high-gain antennae. The IMU will cycle through temperatures of 40 degrees C to + 40 degrees C on the surface of Mars and will be turned off each night to conserve the battery power derived from the solar cells of the rover.

The first rover is scheduled to reach Mars Jan. 4, 2004, and the second Jan. 25, 2004. The Mars Exploratory Rovers will be able to travel up to 40 meters (44 yards) across the surface each Martian day, and will be able to travel the distance of several football fields during the course of their entire missions.

Scientists will evaluate images and measurements from the rovers and will command the vehicles to move to rock samples and soil targets of interest and evaluate their composition.

Each Mars 2003 rover carries sophisticated instruments to search for evidence of liquid water that may have been present in the planet's past. The rovers will land at different regions of Mars and each mission is expected to last at least 92 days, but could continue longer depending on the health of the vehicles.

Jet Propulsion Laboratories, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploratory Rover program for NASA's Office of Space Science.

The value of the contracts funding this effort is approximately $3 million and includes long-lead development, analysis, support, primary units and spares. Each Northrop Grumman LN-200S unit undergoes rigorous space certification testing.

The units are produced at the same high-rate production facility that manufactures the LN-200 IMU. Thousands of the LN-200 inertial navigation systems family have been produced.

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