Guidance system

A guidance system is a virtual or physical device, or a group of devices implementing a guidance process used for controlling the movement of a ship, aircraft, missile, rocket, satellite, or any other moving object. Guidance is the process of calculating the changes in position, velocity, attitude, and/or rotation rates of a moving object required to follow a certain trajectory and/or attitude profile based on information about the object's state of motion.[1][2][3]

A guidance system is usually part of a Guidance, navigation and control system, whereas navigation refers to the systems necessary to calculate the current position and orientation based on sensor data like those from compasses, GPS receivers, Loran-C, star trackers, inertial measurement units, altimeters, etc. The output of the navigation system, the navigation solution, is an input for the guidance system, among others like the environmental conditions (wind, water, temperature, etc.) and the vehicle's characteristics (i.e. mass, control system availability, control systems correlation to vector change, etc.). In general, the guidance system computes the instructions for the control system, which comprises the object's actuators (e.g., thrusters, reaction wheels, body flaps, etc.), which are able to manipulate the flight path and orientation of the object without direct or continuous human control.

One of the earliest examples of a true guidance system is that used in the German V-1 during World War II. The navigation system consisted of a simple gyroscope, an airspeed sensor, and an altimeter. The guidance instructions were target altitude, target velocity, cruise time, and engine cut off time.

A guidance system has three major sub-sections: Inputs, Processing, and Outputs. The input section includes sensors, course data, radio and satellite links, and other information sources. The processing section, composed of one or more CPUs, integrates this data and determines what actions, if any, are necessary to maintain or achieve a proper heading. This is then fed to the outputs which can directly affect the system's course. The outputs may control speed by interacting with devices such as turbines, and fuel pumps, or they may more directly alter course by actuating ailerons, rudders, or other devices.


Inertial guidance 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.

US guidance history centers around 2 distinct communities. One driven out of Caltech and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the other from the German scientists that developed the early V2 rocket guidance and MIT. The GN&C system for V2 provided many innovations and was the most sophisticated military weapon in 1942 using self-contained closed loop guidance. Early V2s leveraged 2 gyroscopes and lateral accelerometer with a simple analog computer to adjust the azimuth for the rocket in flight. Analog computer signals were used to drive 4 external rudders on the tail fins for flight control. 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 (aka Redstone arsenal).[4][5] Von Braun's passion was interplanetary space flight. However his tremendous leadership skills and experience with the V-2 program made him invaluable to the US military.[6] In 1955 the Redstone team was selected to put America's first satellite into orbit putting this group at the center of both military and commercial space.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory traces its history from the 1930s, when Caltech professor Theodore von Karman conducted pioneering work in rocket propulsion. Funded by Army Ordnance in 1942, JPL's early efforts would eventually involve technologies beyond those of aerodynamics and propellant chemistry. The result of the Army Ordnance effort was JPL's answer to the German V-2 missile, named MGM-5 Corporal, first launched in May 1947. On December 3, 1958, two months after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created by Congress, JPL was transferred from Army jurisdiction to that of this new civilian space agency. This shift was due to the creation of a military focused group derived from the German V2 team. Hence, beginning in 1958, NASA JPL and the Caltech crew became focused primarily on unmanned flight and shifted away from military applications with a few exceptions. The community surrounding JPL drove tremendous innovation in telecommunication, interplanetary exploration and earth monitoring (among other areas).[7]

In the early 1950s, the US government wanted to insulate itself against over dependency on the German team for military applications. Among the areas that were domestically "developed" was missile guidance. In the early 1950s 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. This was the beginning of a philosophic controversy, which, in some areas, remains unresolved. 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[8] and Dr. J. Halcombe ("Hal") Laning Jr., researched computational based solutions to guidance as computing began to step out of the analog approach. As computers of that time were very slow (and missiles very fast) it was extremely important to develop programs that were very efficient. Dr. J. Halcombe 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, (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 navigation (e.g. IMU Accuracy) 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 military missiles. The CSDL team remains a leader in the military guidance and is involved in projects for most divisions of the US military.

On August 10 of 1961 NASA Awarded MIT a contract for preliminary design study of a guidance and navigation system for Apollo program.[9] (see Apollo on-board guidance, navigation, and control system, Dave Hoag, International Space Hall of Fame Dedication Conference in Alamogordo, N.M., October 1976 [10]). 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). Although many updates to the shuttles navigation system have taken place over the last 30 years (ex. GPS in the OI-22 build), the guidance core of today's Shuttle GN&C system has evolved little. Within a manned system, there is a human interface needed for the guidance system. As Astronauts are the customer for the system, many new teams are formed that touch GN&C as it is a primary interface to "fly" the vehicle.[11] For the Apollo and STS (Shuttle system) CSDL "designed" the guidance, McDonnell Douglas wrote the requirements and IBM programmed the requirements.

Much system complexity within manned systems is driven by "redundancy management" and the support of multiple "abort" scenarios that provide for crew safety. Manned US Lunar and Interplanetary guidance systems leverage many of the same guidance innovations (described above) developed in the 1950s. So while the core mathematical construct of guidance has remained fairly constant, the facilities surrounding GN&C continue to evolve to support new vehicles, new missions and new hardware. The center of excellence for the manned guidance remains at MIT (CSDL) as well as the former McDonnell Douglas Space Systems (in Houston).


Guidance systems consist of 3 essential parts: navigation which tracks current location, guidance which leverages navigation data and target information to direct flight control "where to go", and control which accepts guidance commands to effect change in aerodynamic and/or engine controls.

Navigation is the art of determining where you are, a science that has seen tremendous focus in 1711 with the Longitude prize. Navigation aids either measure position from a fixed point of reference (ex. landmark, north star, LORAN Beacon), relative position to a target (ex. radar, infra-red, ...) or track movement from a known position/starting point (e.g. IMU). Today's complex systems use multiple approaches to determine current position. For example, today's most advanced navigation systems are embodied within the Anti-ballistic missile, the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 leverages GPS, IMU and ground segment data in the boost phase and relative position data for intercept targeting. Complex systems typically have multiple redundancy to address drift, improve accuracy (ex. relative to a target) and address isolated system failure. Navigation systems therefore take multiple inputs from many different sensors, both internal to the system and/or external (ex. ground based update). Kalman filter provides the most common approach to combining navigation data (from multiple sensors) to resolve current position. Example navigation approaches:

  • Celestial navigation is a position fixing technique that was devised to help sailors cross the featureless oceans without having to rely on dead reckoning to enable them to strike land. Celestial navigation uses angular measurements (sights) between the horizon and a common celestial object. The Sun is most often measured. Skilled navigators can use the Moon, planets or one of 57 navigational stars whose coordinates are tabulated in nautical almanacs. Historical tools include a sextant, watch and ephemeris data. Today's space shuttle, and most interplanetary spacecraft, use optical systems to calibrate inertial navigation systems: Crewman Optical Alignment Sight (COAS),[12] Star Tracker.[13]
  • Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) are the primary inertial system for maintaining current position (navigation) and orientation in missiles and aircraft. They are complex machines with one or more rotating Gyroscopes that can rotate freely in 3 degrees of motion within a complex gimbal system. IMUs are "spun up" and calibrated prior to launch. A minimum of 3 separate IMUs are in place within most complex systems. In addition to relative position, the IMUs contain accelerometers which can measure acceleration in all axes. The position data, combined with acceleration data provide the necessary inputs to "track" motion of a vehicle. IMUs have a tendency to "drift", due to friction and accuracy. Error correction to address this drift can be provided via ground link telemetry, GPS, radar, optical celestial navigation and other navigation aids. When targeting another (moving) vehicle, relative vectors become paramount. In this situation, navigation aids which provide updates of position relative to the target are more important. In addition to the current position, inertial navigation systems also typically estimate a predicted position for future computing cycles. See also Inertial navigation system.
  • Astro-inertial guidance is a sensor fusion/information fusion of the Inertial guidance and Celestial navigation.
  • Long-range Navigation (LORAN) : This was the predecessor of GPS and was (and to an extent still is) used primarily in commercial sea transportation. The system works by triangulating the ship's position based on directional reference to known transmitters.
  • Global Positioning System (GPS) : GPS was designed by the US military with the primary purpose of addressing "drift" within the inertial navigation of Submarine-launched ballistic missile(SLBMs) prior to launch. GPS transmits 2 signal types: military and a commercial. The accuracy of the military signal is classified but can be assumed to be well under 0.5 meters. The GPS system space segment is composed of 24 to 32 satellites in medium Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 20,200 km (12,600 mi). The satellites are in six specific orbits and transmit highly accurate time and satellite location information which can be used to derive distances and triangulate position.[14]

  • Radar/Infrared/Laser : This form of navigation provides information to guidance relative to a known target, it has both civilian (ex rendezvous) and military applications.
    • active (employs own radar to illuminate the target),
    • passive (detects target's radar emissions),
    • semiactive radar homing,
    • Infrared homing : This form of guidance is used exclusively for military munitions, specifically air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles. The missile's seeker head homes in on the infrared (heat) signature from the target's engines (hence the term "heat-seeking missile"),
    • Ultraviolet homing, used in FIM-92 Stinger - more resistive to countermeasures, than IR homing system
    • Laser guidance : A laser designator device calculates relative position to a highlighted target. Most are familiar with the military uses of the technology on Laser-guided bomb. The space shuttle crew leverages a hand held device to feed information into rendezvous planning. The primary limitation on this device is that it requires a line of sight between the target and the designator.
    • Terrain contour matching (TERCOM). Uses a ground scanning radar to "match" topography against digital map data to fix current position. Used by cruise missiles such as the Tomahawk (missile).

Guidance is the "driver" of a vehicle. It takes input from the navigation system (where am I) and uses targeting information (where do I want to go) to send signals to the flight control system that will allow the vehicle to reach its destination (within the operating constraints of the vehicle). The "targets" for guidance systems are one or more state vectors (position and velocity) and can be inertial or relative. During powered flight, guidance is continually calculating steering directions for flight control. For example, the space shuttle targets an altitude, velocity vector, and gamma to drive main engine cut off. Similarly, an Intercontinental ballistic missile also targets a vector. The target vectors are developed to fulfill the mission and can be preplanned or dynamically created.

Control. Flight control is accomplished either aerodynamically or through powered controls such as engines. Guidance sends signals to flight control. A Digital Autopilot (DAP) is the interface between guidance and control. Guidance and the DAP are responsible for calculating the precise instruction for each flight control. The DAP provides feedback to guidance on the state of flight controls.

See also


  1. Grewal, Mohinder S.; Weill, Lawrence R.; Andrews, Angus P. (2007). Global Positioning Systems, Inertial Navigation, and Integration (2nd ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey, USA: Wiley-Interscience, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-470-04190-1.
  2. Farrell, Jay A. (2008). Aided Navigation: GPS with High Rate Sensors. USA: The McGraw-Hill Companies. pp. 5 et seq. ISBN 0-07-164266-8.
  3. Draper, C. S.; Wrigley, W.; Hoag, G.; Battin, R. H.; Miller, E.; Koso, A.; Hopkins, A. L.; Vander Velde, W. E. (June 1965). Apollo Guidance and Navigation (PDF) (Report). Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Instrumentation Laboratory. pp. I-3 et seqq. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-08-17. Retrieved 2013-08-15.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further reading

  • An Introduction to the Mathematics and Methods of Astrodynamics, Revised Edition (AIAA Education Series) Richard Battin, May 1991
  • Space Guidance Evolution-A Personal Narrative, Richard Battin, AIAA 82-4075, April 1982
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