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Video • 1994 Stanford Integrity Beacon Autonomous Airplane Landing System

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Development and Testing of the Stanford Integrity Beacon Autonomous Airplane Landing System

Integrity Beacon Landing System

In the 1980s and 1990s, a group of Stanford Aeronautics & Astronautics graduate students pioneered the use of then U.S. military GPS technology for precision attitude and positioning control of the Gravity Probe B spacecraft. Gravity Probe B was a landmark, 48-year Stanford/NASA/Lockheed Martin mission to test Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity by launching a cryogenic spaceccraft containing four ultra-precision gyroscopes and a telescope into orbit 400 miles above the Earth. While housing the gyroscopes and telescope in a cryogenic dewar (thermos), the spacecraft had to orbit the Earth for a year, continuously pointing at a far-away "guide star." To accomplsih this mission, the spacecraft relied on GPS technology, coupled with 16 micro-thrusters to maintain its precise positioning and attitude (pointing towards the guide star).

The Aero-Astro graduate students realized that the satellite-based GPS technologies they were working on for the spacecraft could be used in conjunction with ground-based psuedo satellites (called integrity beacons) to control the autonomous landing of airplanes. Thus, they developed the Stanford Integrity Beacon Landing System (IBLS), culminating in a 1994 test comprising 100+  successful autonomous test landings of a United Airlines Boeing 737 airplane.

Video courtesy of the Stanford University Archives.

Total run time: 11 Minutes