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Honeywell SIGI Helps Boeing Starliner Dock with Space Station

Honeywell SIGI Helps Boeing Starliner Dock with Space Station

The first successful docking of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft with the International Space Station (ISS) in May simply wouldn’t have been possible without advanced space navigation technology from Honeywell.

SIGI – our Space Integrated GPS/Inertial Navigation System – handled inertial navigation for the Starliner capsule for most of its journey from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to the space station, which was traveling 17,000 mph 220 miles above Earth.

“The SIGI took over once the uncrewed Starliner was released from the Centaur upper stage of the Atlas V rocket,” said Sharon Coogan, Director of Offering Management for Honeywell’s space navigation team.

“It provided position, velocity, rotation and navigation data to guide the vehicle throughout its journey to the space station and complete the complicated docking maneuvers. Using a combination of three Honeywell ring laser gyros and three of our accelerometers, along with blended GPS inputs to improve accuracy, the SIGI was able to pinpoint the location of the vehicle anywhere in space and at any given moment throughout the mission.”

During the 24-hour flight to the ISS, Starliner’s software used SIGI information to manage the thrusters on the service module and steer the spacecraft. As the Starliner neared the space station, crew members at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, using onboard cameras but still relying on SIGI data, took the controls and put the Starliner through a series of test maneuvers before successfully completing the docking procedure.

After the docking was completed, Honeywell space systems team members received a message from Boeing’s Jon Hoff, Guidance, Navigation and Control, Navigation Lead Engineer:

“Thank you very much! We could not have done it without you and your great team at Honeywell. It has been an exciting successful ride so far. The SIGIs are performing very well. We are particularly impressed with GPS acquisition and tracking while docked with ISS. Sensors and nav also doing great. We are well positioned for undock and landing tomorrow and weather looks good.”

For this mission, Orbital Test Flight (OTF)-2, Starliner arrived at the space station carrying 500 pounds of cargo and one “passenger,” an anthropometric test dummy nicknamed “Rosie the Rocketeer,” who occupied the commander’s seat and provided ballast on the flight. On its return, the spacecraft transported about 600 pounds of cargo, including reusable tanks for the ISS’s breathable air system.

Because Starliner is built to carry up to seven humans, every spacecraft will be equipped with three SIGI systems to provide triple redundancy and the kind of quality and reliability that has earned Honeywell a sterling reputation in the space community, noted Gerald Martinez, Honeywell Senior Program Manager for space systems.

 “We’ve been involved in the U.S. space program for more than 60 years and have contributed to every NASA crewed space mission dating back to the Mercury program,” Martinez said. “You’ll also find Honeywell technology on thousands of satellites, launch vehicles and other spacecraft. Products like SIGI demonstrate what we’re capable of accomplishing.”

“SIGI started out in the 1990s as a highly-accurate navigation system for defense applications, but we also saw its potential to improve the way space vehicles are navigated and oriented so we created today’s SIGI, which is a commercial off-the-shelf product and is radiation-hardened for space applications – including the space station itself.”

This OTF-2 mission was an important milestone in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which is designed to develop safe, reliable and cost-effective ways to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS from U.S. soil – a capability that hasn’t been available since the end of the Space Shuttle program more than a decade ago. 

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