Headed into orbit

Space technologies ever more reliable, thanks to unique sensors developed by National Academy of Sciences
By Dmitry Sokolov

We might wonder what role a sensor plays in sending rockets into space but the recent Russian ‘Proton-M’ crash is a prime example. Sadly, it went down with three satellites on board, having lost control due to the incorrect installation of its angular-rate sensor. This tiny, relatively inexpensive component was the nail missing from the horse’s shoe.

Other examples are not hard to find, when some unreliable or insufficiently sensitive sensor has destroyed the hopes and efforts of thousands. Any move to raise the sensitivity of sensors is extremely welcome in the space sphere and the National Academy of Sciences has, accordingly, been focusing on this small yet mighty aspect of cosmic innovation. Working with Russian scientists, and financed by the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre (Moscow), the Scientific and Practical Materials Research Centre of the NAS of Belarus is now producing sensors outranking those anywhere worldwide. The devices’ sensitivity is 6.5 times higher, while using 2.5 times less power — thanks to fast, heavy ions.
 
Of course, the ability to run for longer, using less power, has obvious benefits in space. Just as important is the ability of electronics to withstand space radiation and magnetic fields. The new sensors have passed all tests, including keeping their high sensitivity at very low temperatures.

Another sensor has also recently been setting records in its ability to withstand extremely high temperatures — of several hundred degrees Celsius. The device is the work of the Nanotechnology-SG Union State programme. It can also detect magnetic field changes of just 0.1 percent, making it superior to foreign analogues. Only a few models currently exist, and are enduring final tests at the Heat and Mass Transfer Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. Our partner, Russian Corporation NPO RIF, from Voronezh, which produces microelectronic devices and rocket equipment, plans to begin mass production on receiving the necessary technical documentation from Minsk.

In addition, supersensitive sensors are useful for terrestrial aircraft and can be used in medicine: to measure magnetic fields present around organic tissue, and to control magneto-biological reactions and electric signals in the heart, muscles and brain. Sensors can also be used in burglar alarms, and as a means of recording, processing and storing magnetic information. They are useful in furthering automobile anti-block systems and motor control devices, as well as being used in robotics, geological prospecting, seismology, archaeology, astrophysics and other fields of science.
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