Carter said gimbals typically consist of two rings fixed together axially at 90º to each other and are designed to dampen any movement such as roll, pitch and yaw on a component that is susceptible to this type of movement. In space flight they enable precise control and stabilisation of objects such as an engine, sensor, or instrument, helping to maintain its orientation or change it, while keeping another part of the system stable.
In space there is no atmosphere to provide aerodynamic stability, so spacecraft and rockets rely on thrusters, engines and reaction control systems for propulsion and manoeuvrability. Gimbals allow these engines to be swivelled and pointed in different directions, enabling precise control over the spacecraft’s orientation and trajectory so are essential for achieving accurate course corrections, orbital adjustments and rendezvous manoeuvres.
Many space missions require precise pointing and stabilisation of on-board instruments and sensors and gimbals allow these components to be mounted on rotating platforms that are designed to counteract any unwanted motion or vibrations. This is said to ensure optimum precision, enabling instruments to focus on their intended targets, without being affected by the spacecraft’s movement.
Additionally, Gimbals are used to steer rocket engines during thrusting, allowing for precise control of the spacecraft’s trajectory. By using gimbals to adjust the engines direction means spacecraft can make more efficient use of propellant, minimising fuel consumption and extending a missions duration.
According to Carter, spacecraft often need to maintain consistent orientation for communication with ground control stations, or for observing celestial objects. Gimbals help to keep antennas and other optical instruments pointed in the right direction, which optimises signal strength helping to ensure consistent data transmission. They also enable telescopes and cameras to capture clear images of specific targets.
Furthermore, the orientation or attitude of a spacecraft is critical for achieving specific mission objectives, such as maintaining the proper orientation for solar panel exposure or managing heat dissipation. Gimbals provide the means to adjust and maintain the spacecraft’s attitude, allowing it to respond to changes in external conditions and maintain optimal operational conditions.