Star Tracker Guides Rocket to Success

Jan 31, 2017

ST5K aboard a Black Brent sounding rocket, along with the PolarNOx instrument payload.


The Wisconsin-built Star Tracker 5000 (ST5K for short) is a powerful little instrument: By taking images of the night sky and locating bright stars, it can figure out the direction a rocket is pointed to pinoint accuracy in the blink of an eye. It does so by comparing the measured positions to the known coordinates of each star. It does it fast, it does it accurately, and it does it in a small, robust package that can be flown atop sounding rockets, where cargo volume and tolerace for excess weight are extremely tight.


In this case, the rocket payload was the PolarNOx, a UV spectrograph to measure the concentration of nitric oxide in the atmosphere, mounted atop a Black Brant IX sounding rocket. So unlike previous flights, where the targets ST5K was aqcuiring were astronomical, the instrument was pointed the other direction, at Earth. Undeterred, ST5K did its job and the mission was a resounding success. Congratulations to the ST5K team, including Jeff Percival, Kurt Jaehnig, Don Michalski, and Sam Gabelt!

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