A gyroscope is a device for measuring or maintaining orientation, based on the principles of angular momentum. In essence, a mechanical gyroscope is a spinning wheel or disk whose axle is free to take any orientation. Although this orientation does not remain fixed, it changes in response to an external torque much less and in a different direction than it would without the large angular momentum associated with the disk's high rate of spin and moment of inertia. Since external torque is minimized by mounting the device in gimbals, its orientation remains nearly fixed, regardless of any motion of the platform on which it is mounted. Gyroscopes based on other operating principles also exist, such as the electronic, microchip-packaged MEMS gyroscope devices found in consumer electronic devices, solid-state ring lasers, fibre optic gyroscopes, and the extremely sensitive quantum gyroscope. Applications of gyroscopes include inertial navigation systems where magnetic compasses would not work (as in the Hubble telescope) or would not be precise enough (as in ICBMs), or for the stabilization of flying vehicles like radio-controlled helicopters or unmanned aerial vehicles. Due to their precision, gyroscopes are also used to maintain direction in tunnel mining. Within mechanical systems or devices, a conventional gyroscope is a mechanism comprising a rotor journaled to spin about one axis, the journals of the rotor being mounted in an inner gimbal or ring; the inner gimbal is journaled for oscillation in an outer gimbal for a total of two gimbals. The outer gimbal or ring, which is the gyroscope frame, is mounted so as to pivot about an axis in its own plane determined by the support. This outer gimbal possesses one degree of rotational freedom and its axis possesses none. The next inner gimbal is mounted in the gyroscope frame (outer gimbal) so as to pivot about an axis in its own plane that is always perpendicular to the pivotal axis of the gyroscope frame (outer gimbal). This inner gimbal has two degrees of rotational freedom. The axle of the spinning wheel defines the spin axis. The rotor is journaled to spin about an axis, which is always perpendicular to the axis of the inner gimbal. So the rotor possesses three degrees of rotational freedom and its axis possesses two. The wheel responds to a force applied about the input axis by a reaction force about the output axis. The behaviour of a gyroscope can be most easily appreciated by consideration of the front wheel of a bicycle. If the wheel is leaned away from the vertical so that the top of the wheel moves to the left, the forward rim of the wheel also turns to the left. In other words, rotation on one axis of the turning wheel produces rotation of the third axis. A gyroscope flywheel will roll or resist about the output axis depending upon whether the output gimbals are of a free- or fixed- configuration. Examples of some free-output-gimbal devices would be the attitude reference gyroscopes used to sense or measure the pitch, roll and yaw attitude angles in a spacecraft or aircraft.
20th Jan 2015