Northrop Grumman has been subcontracted by the University of California to support the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) primary and secondary calibration on active layer (PASCAL) effort of micro-technology for its positioning, navigation and timing (Micro-PNT) programme.

Under the deal, the company will work with the university to help improve long-term measurement tasks of micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) inertial sensors.

As part of the PASCAL programme, the team will manufacture an ultra-miniaturised microsystem, comprising a gyroscope and accelerometer, along with inertial sensing elements co-located in-situ calibration capabilities.

“Not only may this research help to advance sensor technology and accuracy, but it may also lead to increased affordability."

Northrop Grumman vice president and chief technology officer Charles Volk said the microsystem development marked progress in constantly measurement for MEMS inertial sensors, eliminating the need for calibration after dormant periods.

"Not only may this research help to advance sensor technology and accuracy, but it may also lead to increased affordability," Volk added.

In-situ calibration of inertial devices minimises the system’s lifecycle costs by eradicating the need for the manufacturer to recall components from service for recalibration, followed by reintegration into subsequent platforms.

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It also facilitates full or mini-calibration of the components just before the platform’s launch, providing increased flexibility and an opportunity to compensate for ageing effects prior to the use of an instrument.

Used in a range of navigation, pointing and stabilisation applications for measurement of rotation rate and acceleration, the MEMS sensors face measurement inaccuracies due to its increased vulnerability to long-term instabilities causing bias and scale-factor drift.

Administered by DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office, the PASCAL plan forms part of the agency’s Micro-PNT programme, which aims at production of technology for self-contained, chip-scale inertial navigation and precision guidance systems.