An Inertial Navigation System (INS) is a navigation aid that uses a computer and motion sensors (accelerometers) to continuously calculate via dead reckoning the position, orientation, and velocity (direction and speed of movement) of a moving object without the need for external references. Other terms used to refer to inertial navigation systems or closely related devices include inertial guidance system, inertial reference platform, and many other variations.
An inertial navigation system includes at least a computer and a platform or module containing accelerometers, gyroscopes, or other motion-sensing devices. The INS is initially provided with its position and velocity from another source (a human operator, a GPS satellite receiver, etc.), and thereafter computes its own updated position and velocity by integrating information received from the motion sensors. The advantage of an INS is that it requires no external references in order to determine its position, orientation, or velocity once it has been initialized.
An INS can detect a change in its geographic position (a move east or north, for example), a change in its velocity (speed and direction of movement), and a change in its orientation (rotation about an axis). It does this by measuring the linear and angular accelerations applied to the system. Since it requires no external reference (after initialization), it is immune to jamming and deception.
Inertial-navigation systems are used in many different moving objects, including vehicles, aircraft, submarines, spacecraft, and guided missiles. However, their cost and complexity does place constraints on the environments in which they are practical for use.
Gyroscopes measure the angular velocity of the system in the inertial reference frame. By using the original orientation of the system in the inertial reference frame as the initial condition and integrating the angular velocity, the system's current orientation is known at all times. This can be thought of as the ability of a blindfolded passenger in a car to feel the car turn left and right or tilt up and down as the car ascends or descends hills. Based on this information alone, he knows what direction the car is facing but not how fast or slow it is moving, or whether it is sliding sideways.
Accelerometers measure the linear acceleration of the system in the inertial reference frame, but in directions that can only be measured relative to the moving system (since the accelerometers are fixed to the system and rotate with the system, but are not aware of their own orientation). This can be thought of as the ability of a blindfolded passenger in a car to feel himself pressed back into his seat as the vehicle accelerates forward or pulled forward as it slows down; and feel himself pressed down into his seat as the vehicle accelerates up a hill or rise up out of his seat as the car passes over the crest of a hill and begins to descend. Based on this information alone, he knows how the vehicle is moving relative to itself, that is, whether it is going forward, backward, left, right, up (toward the car's ceiling), or down (toward the car's floor) measured relative to the car, but not the direction relative to the Earth, since he did not know what direction the car was facing relative to the Earth when he felt the accelerations.
However, by tracking both the current angular velocity of the system and the current linear acceleration of the system measured relative to the moving system, it is possible to determine the linear acceleration of the system in the inertial reference frame. Performing integration on the inertial accelerations (using the original velocity as the initial conditions) using the correct kinematic equations yields the inertial velocities of the system, and integration again (using the original position as the initial condition) yields the inertial position. In our example, if the blindfolded passenger knew how the car was pointed and what its velocity was before he was blindfolded, and he is able to keep track of both how the car has turned and how it has accelerated and decelerated since, he can accurately know the current orientation, position, and velocity of the car at any time.
All inertial navigation systems suffer from integration drift: Small errors in the measurement of acceleration and angular velocity are integrated into progressively larger errors in velocity, which is compounded into still greater errors in position. This is a problem that is inherent in every open loop control system. The inaccuracy of a good-quality navigational system is normally less than 0.6 nautical miles per hour in position and on the order of tenths of a degree per hour in orientation.
Inertial navigation may also be used to supplement other navigation systems, providing a higher degree of accuracy than is possible with the use of any single navigation system. For example, if, in terrestrial use, the inertially tracked velocity is intermittently updated to zero by stopping, the position will remain precise for a much longer time, a so-called zero velocity update.
Control theory in general and Kalman filtering in particular provide a theoretical framework for combining information from various sensors. One of the most common alternative sensors is a satellite navigation radio, such as GPS. By properly combining the information from an INS and the GPS system (GPS/INS), the errors in position and velocity are stable. Furthermore, INS can be used as a short-term fallback while GPS signals are unavailable, for example when a vehicle passes through a tunnel.
Inertial navigation systems were originally developed for rockets. American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard experimented with rudimentary gyroscopic systems. Dr. Goddard's systems were of great interest to contemporary German pioneers including Wernher von Braun. The systems entered more widespread use with the advent of spacecraft, guided missiles, and commercial airliners.
Early German WWII V2 Rocket Guidance systems combined two gyroscopes and a lateral accelerometer with a simple analog computer to adjust the azimuth for the rocket in flight. Analog computer signals were used to drive four external rudders on the tail fins for flight control. The GN&C system for V2 provided many innovations as an integrated platform with closed loop guidance. At the end of the war Von Braun engineered the surrender of 500 of his top rocket scientists, along with plans and test vehicles, to the Americans. They arrived in Fort Bliss, Texas in 1945 and were subsequently moved to Huntsville, Al in 1950.
In the early 1950s when the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory (later to become the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc.) was chosen by the Air Force Western Development Division to provide a self-contained guidance system backup to Convair in San Diego for the new Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile. The technical monitor for the MIT task was a young engineer named Jim Fletcher who later served as the NASA Administrator. The Atlas guidance system was to be a combination of an on-board autonomous system, and a ground-based tracking and command system. The self-contained system finally prevailed in ballistic missile applications for obvious reasons. In space exploration, a mixture of the two remains.
In the summer of 1952, Dr. Richard Battin and Dr. J. Halcomb Laning Jr., researched computational based solutions to guidance. Dr. J. Halcomb Laning, with the help of Phil Hankins and Charlie Werner, initiated work on MAC, an algebraic programming language for the IBM 650, which was completed by early spring of 1958. MAC became the work-horse of the MIT lab. MAC is an extremely readable language having a three-line format, vector-matrix notations and mnemonic and indexed subscripts. Today's Space Shuttle (STS) language called HAL/S, (developed by Intermetrics, Inc.) is a direct offshoot of MAC. Since the principal architect of HAL was Jim Miller, who co-authored with Hal Laning a report on the MAC system, it is a reasonable speculation that the Space Shuttle language is named for Jim's old mentor, and not, as some have suggested, for the electronic superstar of the Arthur Clarke movie 2001-A Space Odyssey. (Richard Battin, AIAA 82-4075, April 1982)
Hal Laning and Richard Battin undertook the initial analytical work on the Atlas inertial guidance in 1954. Other key figures at Convair were Charlie Bossart, the Chief Engineer, and Walter Schweidetzky, head of the guidance group. Walter had worked with Wernher von Braun at Peenemuende during World War II.
The initial Delta guidance system assessed the difference in position from a reference trajectory. A velocity to be gained (VGO) calculation is made to correct the current trajectory with the objective of driving VGO to zero. The mathematics of this approach were fundamentally valid, but dropped because of the challenges in accurate inertial guidance and analog computing power. The challenges faced by the Delta efforts were overcome by the Q system of guidance. The Q system's revolution was to bind the challenges of missile guidance (and associated equations of motion) in the matrix Q. The Q matrix represents the partial derivatives of the velocity with respect to the position vector. A key feature of this approach allowed for the components of the vector cross product (v, xdv, /dt) to be used as the basic autopilot rate signals—a technique that became known as cross-product steering. The Q-system was presented at the first Technical Symposium on Ballistic Missiles held at the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation in Los Angeles on June 21 and 22, 1956. The Q system was classified information through the 1960s. Derivations of this guidance are used for today's missiles.
Guidance in Human spaceflight Edit
In Feb of 1961 NASA Awarded MIT a contract for preliminary design study of a guidance and navigation system for Apollo. (see Apollo on-board guidance, navigation, and control system, Dave Hoag, International Space Hall of Fame Dedication Conference in Alamogordo, N.M., October 1976).
Today's Space Shuttle guidance is named PEG4 (Powered Explicit Guidance). It takes into account both the Q system and the predictor corrector attributes of the original "Delta" System (PEG Guidance).
Aircraft inertial guidance Edit
One example of a popular INS for commercial aircraft was the Delco Carousel, which provided partial automation of navigation in the days before complete flight management systems became commonplace. The Carousel allowed pilots to enter a series of waypoints, and then guided the aircraft from one waypoint to the next using an INS to determine aircraft position. Some aircraft were equipped with dual Carousels for safety.
Inertial navigation unit of french IRBM S3.INSs have angular and linear accelerometers (for changes in position); some include a gyroscopic element (for maintaining an absolute angular reference).
Angular accelerometers measure how the vehicle is rotating in space. Generally, there's at least one sensor for each of the three axes: pitch (nose up and down), yaw (nose left and right) and roll (clockwise or counter-clockwise from the cockpit).
Linear accelerometers measure non-gravitational accelerations of the vehicle. Since it can move in three axes (up & down, left & right, forward & back), there is a linear accelerometer for each axis.
A computer continually calculates the vehicle's current position. First, for each of the six degrees of freedom (x,y,z and θx, θy and θz), it integrates over time the sensed amount of acceleration, together with an estimate of gravity, to calculate the current velocity. Then it integrates the velocity to figure the current position.
Inertial guidance is difficult without computers. The desire to use inertial guidance in the Minuteman missile and Project Apollo drove early attempts to miniaturize computers.
Inertial guidance systems are now usually combined with satellite navigation systems through a digital filtering system. The inertial system provides short term data, while the satellite system corrects accumulated errors of the inertial system.
An inertial guidance system that will operate near the surface of the earth must incorporate Schuler tuning so that its platform will continue pointing towards the center of the earth as a vehicle moves from place to place.