We describe the development and implementation of a light-weight, fully autonomous 2-axis pointing and stabilization system designed for balloon-borne astronomical payloads. The system is developed using off-the-shelf components such as Arduino Uno controller, HMC 5883L magnetometer, MPU-9150 inertial measurement unit, and iWave GPS receiver unit. It is a compact and rugged system which can also be used to take images/video in a moving vehicle or in real photography. The system performance is evaluated from the ground, as well as in conditions simulated to imitate the actual flight by using a tethered launch.
The ultraviolet (UV) window has been largely unexplored through balloons for astronomy. We discuss here the development of a compact near-UV spectrograph with fiber optics input for balloon flights. It is a modified Czerny-Turner system built using off-the-shelf components. The system is portable and scalable to different telescopes. The use of reflecting optics reduces the transmission loss in the UV. It employs an image-intensified CMOS sensor, operating in photon counting mode, as the detector of choice. A lightweight pointing system developed for stable pointing to observe astronomical sources is also discussed, together with the methods to improve its accuracy, e.g. using the in-house build star sensor and others. Our primary scientific objectives include the observation of bright Solar System objects such as visible to eye comets, Moon and planets. Studies of planets can give us valuable information about the planetary aurorae, helping to model and compare atmospheres of other planets and the Earth. The other major objective is to look at the diffuse UV atmospheric emission features (airglow lines), and at column densities of trace gases. This UV window includes several lines important to atmospheric chemistry, e.g. SO2, O3, HCHO, BrO. The spectrograph enables simultaneous measurement of various trace gases, as well as provides better accuracy at higher altitudes compared to electromechanical trace gas measurement sondes. These lines contaminate most astronomical observations but are poorly characterized. Other objectives may include sprites in the atmosphere and meteor ashes from high altitude burn-outs. Our recent experiments and observations with high-altitude balloons are discussed.
We describe the characterization and removal of noises present in the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) MPU- 6050, which was initially used in an attitude sensor, and later used in the development of a pointing system for small balloon-borne astronomical payloads. We found that the performance of the IMU degraded with time because of the accumulation of different errors. Using Allan variance analysis method, we identified the different components of noise present in the IMU, and verified the results by the power spectral density analysis (PSD). We tried to remove the high-frequency noise using smooth filters such as moving average filter and then Savitzky Golay (SG) filter. Even though we managed to filter some high-frequency noise, these filters performance wasn't satisfactory for our application. We found the distribution of the random noise present in IMU using probability density analysis and identified that the noise in our IMU was white Gaussian in nature. Hence, we used a Kalman filter to remove the noise and which gave us good performance real time.
We are developing a compact UV Imager using light weight components, that can be own on a small CubeSat or a balloon platform. The system has a lens-based optics that can provide an aberration-free image over a wide field of view. The backend instrument is a photon counting detector with off-the-shelf MCP, CMOS sensor and electronics. We are using a Z-stack MCP with a compact high voltage power supply and a phosphor screen anode, which is read out by a CMOS sensor and the associated electronics. The instrument can be used to observe solar system objects and detect bright transients from the upper atmosphere with the help of CubeSats or high altitude balloons. We have designed the imager to be capable of working in direct frame transfer mode as well in the photon-counting mode for single photon event detection. The identification and centroiding of each photon event are done using an FPGA-based data acquisition and real-time processing system.