The Venus or Titan EXploration (VORTEX) gimbal is a low Size, Weight, and Power, high performance pointing mechanism capable of supporting future aerobot exploration missions as well as other missions with extreme environments. Scaled from Tethers Unlimited Inc.’s (TUI’s) existing COBRA carpal-wrist gimbal, the VORTEX gimbal provides continuous full hemispherical-plus pointing with accuracies better than 0.5 degrees and supports slew rates of better than 30 degrees per second at less than 5W operational power. Currently at TRL-4, the VORTEX gimbal features an improved design that protects vital components to make it compatible with wide temperature ranges, radiation, and chemically corrosive environments. In the Phase I effort, we will continue development of the VORTEX gimbal by defining system requirements, improving our gimbal model and design tools, and conducting necessary trade studies to complete detailed system and sub-system designs in preparation for producing an engineering development unit that will be used for testing and flight qualification in follow-on efforts.
The VORTEX gimbal will support future NASA aerobot exploration missions to Venus and other planetary bodies by providing a reliable, lightweight, mechanism for pointing and articulation of high gain antennas. VORTEX is well suited for missions with instruments that require precision pointing and articulation with data or power throughput, such as optical and high-frequency RF satellite crosslinks.
Antenna pointing and solar array articulation for both small spacecraft and extreme environments are leading use cases for the VORTEX gimbal. There is a significant amount of commercial interest in the use of the gimbal for high performance satellite cross-links and data return.