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NASA Teams To Build Gyroscopes 1,000X More Sensitive Than Current Systems 91

coondoggie writes "NASA today said it would work with a team of researchers on a three-year, $1.8 project to build gyroscope systems that are more than 1,000 times as sensitive as those in use today. The Fast Light Optical Gyroscope project will marry researchers from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center; the US Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center and Northwestern University to develop gyroscopes that could find their way into complex spacecraft, aircraft, commercial vehicles or ships in the future."
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NASA Teams To Build Gyroscopes 1,000X More Sensitive Than Current Systems

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  • 1.8 (Score:5, Funny)

    by sentientbeing ( 688713 ) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @12:34AM (#41838741)
    A 1.8 dollar project. Man. NASA must really love those budget cuts
  • $1.80 for a super sensitive gyroscope. I like your style NASA!

  • Even I can make more than $1.80 in three years, these might not be the greatest gyros.
  • What is it then? If it travels faster than light, can you really still call it "light"? Needs a new name - I propose that instead of "light" or "fast light", we call it "Speedy Gonzales".
  • by MassiveForces ( 991813 ) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @12:44AM (#41838805)
    According to NASA's site, the contract is $1.8 million - just in case you thought NASA might be able to spend $1.8 billion on something like that... []

    I think they should focus on cheaper space pens*

    *(I kid, I kid!)
    • Also, the article is a little "light" on details, is it meant to be similar to the following?
      • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
        I was wondering the same. If they really plan on making things 1000x more accurate than these, it can really be a nifty innovation.
        On the other hand, why is this not a Navy project? I thought that guroscopes were crucial to stealth submarine navigation. I doubt that they spend less than 2 millions on improving this already...
        • Maybe those gyros are now good enough for navigating subs through the vast expanses of our oceans, but not good enough to navigate space craft to nearby cosmic neighbours or to accurately point space telescopes to nearby objects?

          • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
            Still, I think that having a meter accuracy after a Pacific traversal could have uses...
            • If you really don't have any other sensors maybe... but of course it never hurts to have more accuracy.

              • Of course, you are correct. Assuming of course, that pretty much everything else is equal or better. Unless there is a critical problem to avoid, or a specific need which is not currently possible, then improved accuracy may be worse if you consider it from the perspective of changing what works.

                I've run into issues like this with systems I've designed (for the DoD). I accidentally let slip that a performance boost was possible. Well, of course a few months down the line I was expected to include that a

        • by jittles ( 1613415 ) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @09:51AM (#41841477)
          Gyroscopes are very very important to the maintenance and operation of all aircraft, as well as inertial navigation systems. For instance, gyroscopes help you to determine where you are when your GPS has failed, or if GPS does not exist. I'm not sure how useful that would be with space, I'm no physicist. But they also use gyroscopes to make sure mechanical parts are still operating within specification. This allows them to use the part until it falls out of spec, instead of replacing a part every 500 flight hours because they know the part will last at least that long. It saves the government a ton of money, and they're trying to roll them out wherever possible. The gyros are also helpful when an in-flight failure occurs, often helping the computer diagnose the exact problem. This allows the pilot to more accurately determine whether he needs to make an emergency landing, or RTB. The big push for this all happened after Blackhawk Down, and the pilots who crashed because they did not realize their tail rotor was about to fail. That is the exact sort of failure a gyroscope could have warned them about.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Commercially available [].

    • According to NASA's site, the contract is $1.8 million - just in case you thought NASA might be able to spend $1.8 billion

      I thought due to budget cuts they could only spend $1.80

    • Well my subconscious reading did fill in a "b" in that gap, not an "m". Which of course has to do with the word "NASA" that appeared in the same sentence. It's hard to believe those guys even can enter such small numbers in their budget application forms!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    oh, and ICBM guidance systems.
  • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @12:48AM (#41838831)

    And... missiles. Don't forget the missiles. In fact, let's just be clear here. This is for missiles. Spacecraft will be damned lucky to get any of these, and aircraft aren't getting them at all, nevermind unspecified "commercial vehicles." Missiles and drones will get these and nothing else. NASA will have to beg for an intentionally crippled version in order to get gear that isn't classified, for use on spacecraft.

    • by slacka ( 713188 )

      This tech is useful in everything from game controllers to rockets. John Carmack was just talking about he re-used his Armidello rocket code in head tracking controller software. I hope this also trickles down. []

      • Indeed. My first thought was how this would help make inertial guidance systems better. Autopilots and such. But you bring up a good point about it being good for devices where you want to detect very small amounts of motion.

        ICBMs don't actually need better gyros today - their destructive power renders the margin of error moot.

        • by gagol ( 583737 )
          Norad (Cheyenne Montain) can witstand a near hit nuclear detonation. A direct hit would cripple the place. If 1000× more precise gyro navigation can accomplish it, I would be enclined to believe it is a worthy upgrade.
          • Our current generation ICBMS are already capable of hitting within 50 meters of the programmed target. When Cheyenne Mountain was built, it was built to withstand close nuclear detonation from missiles where detonating within a kilometer was more the expected accuracy.

            We can hit Cheyenne Mountain style facilities directly enough to destroy them already. That's without getting into fancy stuff like the nuclear deep penetrators we have locked up somewhere.

            • Did you miss the notice? Actually using nukes is out of style. Governments only threaten to use them.
              No these will be useful in conventional bombs/missiles. If you have 1 meter accuracy then the explosive force can be less, so the civilian casualties can be less so there are less embarrassing images to show on TV.
            • by gagol ( 583737 )
              I stand corrected.
        • I was thinking it would be more likely to be used in drone-launched flechette missiles. If it reduces the number of non-targeted "suspected militants" killed then maybe it's a good thing.

          • I'm not sure such a system, despite the improved targeting, would pass Geneva Convention scrutiny.

            Though you have a point about improving the accuracy of smaller munitions, assuming the gyroscope ends up being small, cheap, and sturdy enough.

      • Probably not so much in game controllers. These aren't MEMS devices. They're large heavy mechanical things. They're neither small nor light enough to cram into a controller or a phone. The smallest thing mentioned in the article is a "tabletop" gravitational wave detector.

    • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @01:08AM (#41838911)

      If this was just for missiles, you wouldn't hear about it. Indeed, it would have gone to a no-bid contract in a brown paper bag in the dead of night behind the dumpster at the McDonalds around the corner from Textron, Lockheed, or Raytheon.

      There are a *lot* of civilian applications for a sensitive gyroscope.


    • And... missiles. Don't forget the missiles. In fact, let's just be clear here. This is for missiles.

      Probably not. The target accuracy is still inferior to the performance of a top end (ICBM/SLBM grade) gyro.

      NASA will have to beg for an intentionally crippled version in order to get gear that isn't classified, for use on spacecraft.

      NASA already pretty much uses top level guidance systems, so... better adjust that tinfoil. Besides which, it's generally the guidance system itself that's classified,

    • This is NOT for missiles. It will almost certainly be used in them, BUT NASA does not do that line of work. There are loads of places for aircrafts and spacecrafts where gyros are needed (artificial horizon comes to mind). In fact, if this can be produced cheaper than today's gyros, then you have a good deal.
    • by gregski ( 765387 )

      Gravity Probe B had what i believe is at least a comparable spec of gyroscope: []

      "The SQUID magnetometers are so sensitive that a field change of only one quantum—equivalent to 5 x 10-14 gauss (1/10,000,000,000,000th of the Earth's magnetic field) and corresponding to a gyro tilt of 0.1 milliarcsecond (3x10-8 degrees)—is detectable. "

  • Pick any two....

  • Will start making these next year.

  • Must be a JPL project, those guys are really cost effective.
  • Build me a few more, kthanks.

  • Crap article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @02:22AM (#41839179) Homepage

    Crap article, from a crap blog, copied from a press release []. It's so Slashdot.

    Here's the actual paper on the research. [] The physics is interesting. It's a way to make optical gyros better. Currently, good fiber-optic gyros have drift rates around 1 degree per hour. Ring laser gyros can do better, and mechanical gyros still beat the optical systems on long-term drift. This proposal is to develop a way to get a few more orders of magnitude less drift out of optical gyros.

    Low-end MEMS gyros have drift rates of several degrees per minute, but there's steady progress, and degrees-per-hour MEMS gyros now exist.

    • The physics is interesting.

      For the value of "interesting" in "Hay guyz, why don't we just stuff Newton's prism into an interferometer to increase its precision, and do a lot of irrelevant calculations!"

      (to be honest, using an inclined surface of a prism to vary the direction of the beams would be an improvement on what they are doing, however calibration will be very difficult)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "to develop gyroscopes that could find their way into bombs and missiles in the future."


  • We already know how to build an optical gyroscope. Most of the money, in this case, is going toward finding a better string. Why do you think those guys are always going on about string theory?
  • I have been working on optical gyroscopes for the last three years, they are nothing new, and they are already being widely used in satellites , missiles, drones and etc, the idea has been around for a long time, what this horrible article is referring to is newly funded research to enhance their sensitivity and accuracy. Currently, they have to use up to 8 (depending on accuracy needed) gyroscopes per missile/satellite to get enough resolution. Hopefully this research will yield cheaper and more accura
  • So a nifty new gyro for $1.80? Must just be the initial cost estimate.

    After they get into the details I'm sure that cost will go up by a lot....

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