A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: David Pike
Date: 2016 Jul 21, 11:52 -0700
Paul Dolkas you wrote: I always thought that the biggest problem with sextants (especially the aircraft bubble type) was the problem of figuring out where horizontal is. So why not replace the liquid bubble with an electronic inclinometer? They are now readily available reading down to sub-second accuracy. It could either be attached to the index mirror for a direct readout of elevation, or attached to the horizontal “base” with a rotary encoder to figure the elevation from there. You sight the star, push the button, and you’re done.
Paul. I’m not quite sure what you mean when you talk about an electronic sextant or inclinometer. In the case of the sextant, do you mean electronic measurement of the angle between the index mirror and the horizon mirror, or do you mean electronic sensing of the vertical, or ideally both? Digital angular measurement would be great. (I’ve recently bought a Vernier calliper gauge with a digital read-out for engineering use and it has turned what was once a chore into a pleasure). However, you would still need to know where the horizontal or vertical was or to level the inclinometer. I’m told that this is possible electronically with MEMS technology and is used in smart phones. This would be fine on land, but I fail to see how such a system could separate the acceleration due to gravity from the accelerations of a small vessel or an aircraft. I suspect that to do that your instrument would need to be connected to an even more complex arrangement such as an inertial platform. I suppose if you could lock on to four or more bodies at the same time, you might be able to make the device self-levelling by making the jigsaw puzzle of angles fit a bit like GPS does with ranges to slew the receiver clock.
With respect to bubble horizons, the thing that allowed them to catch on was the introduction of the concave roofed bubble chamber proposed by Fave in 1906 and patented by Booth and Smith from RAE in 1919. This obviated the need to hold the bubble between fiduciary marks in the fore and aft direction and made it much easier to hold the sextant vertical laterally. I attach a short paper I put together on the subject for Navigation News. DaveP