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Fin Actuation System

Missiles require a guidance mechanism to ensure that it hits the target. The system that serves
this purpose is called fin actuation system. This chapter provides a brief introduction on Fin
Actuation System (FAS) and the role it plays in achieving desired flight path.
A missile is an intelligent unmanned rocket designed to carry the payload to a designated
point with an aim of destroying the object/target. It is designed keeping in mind its target,
trajectory path to be followed, its range, velocity, launch platform, etc. The purpose of a
missile is to destroy threatening targets.

The major technologies/mechanisms used in a missile are:

Propulsion System: It is required to achieve terminal conditions like range, speed and
warhead carrying capability. The missile is either propelled either by rockets or jet engines
using solid or liquid fuel.
Guidance System: The function of guidance system is to maintain the missile in its desired
path by using altitude control mechanism. This system includes a tracking system which
measures relative motion. A guidance processor derives missile maneuver commands which
are then transformed into missile control surface deflection commands. A control system
supplies the actuator power to rotate control surface. Aerodynamic lift on the missile
generated by the control surface deflections produces maneuvers that are responsive to
guidance commands.
Terminal guidance in precision guided weapons: It detects the target of the missile and
determines the time of activating the warhead. After finding out the target, the device sends
an electrical impulse to trigger the activation system.
Warheads: Warheads are selected according to the type of the target. An optimum position
of burst I used to achieve the desired effect.
Aerodynamic features like air frame, wings and fins: The aerodynamic features of a
missile, also called controlling surfaces, are used to control the missiles flight. These control
surfaces i.e. wings and fins are used to steer the missile. They control the pitch, yaw and roll
motion of the missile system with the help of electromechanical actuators.
Fins are thin appendages attached to a larger body or structure, which typically function as
foils that produce lift or thrust, or provide the ability to steer or stabilize motion while
traveling in water, air or any other fluid medium. They are the main component of the
missiles Fin Actuation System.

Different types of Control Surfaces:

1. Canard Control:
Canard fin is located at the front side of the missile. It generates an aerodynamic
moment which is proportional to the lift that acts on the control surface. When this fin
is tilted upwards, the lift force causes the missile to rise up. The lift in turn is
dependent on the deflection angle of the control surface.
When the fins are initially deflected, a missile has a transient response that depends
on the magnitudes of moments, the moment of inertia of the missile, and the
aerodynamic damping characteristics of the missile. Fast response of the missile to
maneuver commands is a very important characteristics for engaging maneuvering

Fig 1. Canard Control

2. Wing Control:
Fins which are located near the center of mass of the missile are called wings. When
these wings are used as control surfaces, the lift on the wing which may be a
substantial portion of the overall missile lift can be developed very quickly. But the
wings need to be large enough to produce sufficient lift. This makes missile bulky.
This is the reason why supersonic missiles do not have wings.

Fig 2. Wing Control

3. Tail Control:
Tail fins are present at the rear end of the missile, behind its centre of mass. It is one
of the most commonly used method for missile control. With the tail control, the lift
on the control surface is in the direction opposite to the desired lateral acceleration of
the missile. So that the lift on the control surface subtracts from the overall missile
lift. This can result in slightly decreased lateral accelerations and slightly increased
response time.

Fig 3. Tail Control

4. Grid Control:
Grid fins are a type of flight control surface used on rockets or missile. These are
present on the rear end of the missile. Grid fins have been used on conventional
missiles and bombs such as Vympel R-77. In 2014, Spacex tested grid fins on a first
stage demonstration test vehicle of its reusable Falcon 9 rocket.

Fig 4. Grid Control

Fin Actuation System

Two types of fin actuator systems are commonly used these days:
Fluidic systems
Hydraulic system
Pneumatic systems
Electromechanical systems
In fluidic systems, pressure valves and release valves are controlled using the command
signal. It consists of a cylinder with a movable piston for regulating pressure. A push rod
coming out of the cylinder is connected to a control fin output shaft to which the fin is
connected. The fluid in the system undergoes leakage over long periods of storage, which
makes periodic maintenance necessary. Pneumatic systems fail to meet performance
requirements like extreme temperatures, vibrations, etc.
Electromechanical system consists of a motor which converts a command signal to physical
movement using a precision gear train. The actuator assembly consists of a the Brushless
Direct Current (BLDC) Motor, Gear trains, Feedback sensors, electronics controller,

aeronautical or control surfaces. All these are housed at the tail end of the missile from the
inner side. Four such actuators are mounted in the airstream in four sectors at the tail of a
missile. When these fins are oriented at an angle with resoect to the airstream, they exert a
control force on the missile which can be used to maneuver the missile into its desrired flight

Components of Fin Actuation System

Fig 5. Fin Actuation System

Brushless DC Motor:
BLDC Motor is a type of synchronous motor with rotor as permanent magnet. It
requires a controller for operation. It is available in single phase, 2-phase as well as 3phase. 3-phase motors are used commonly.

Gear Trains:
Interconnected wheels having interlocked teeth, which rotate without any slip are
called gear. In this electro-mechanical actuator planetary gears are used, in which the
teeth are parallel to the axis and are used for transmitting power between two parallel

Feedback Sensors:
A rotary encoder is a device that converts the angular position or motion of a shaft or
axle to an analog or digital code. The optical type is used when higher speeds are
encountered or a higher degree of precision is required. Hence, in our case optical
encoders are used to track motion and to determine position and velocity.

Aeronautical Surfaces/Fins:
Most guided missiles are controlled and stabilized with this movable control surfaces
or fins that project from the sides of the missile. The fins are of symmetrical cross
section and are pivotably mounted in the airstream. When each fin is oriented parallel
to the airstream, there is no control force exerted on the missile. By pivoting the fins
to be oriented at an angle with respect to the airstream, there is a resulting control

force exerted on the missile and its direction or roll orientation is changed. The
actuator mechanism which must respond at high rates to maintain the maneuverability
and stability of the high speed missile.

In Fin Actuation System, actuator receives command from the guidance computer to rotate
the shaft of the motor. Axial rotation of the output shaft of the motor results in angular
displacement of the control surface.
A position sensor is coupled to the drive shaft of the motor, which gives a count of the
electrical pulses for a certain degree of rotation. Error is calculated as the difference between
the input command and the output fin position. When the fin movement is within the certain
range, the motor shaft rotates the fin so as to compensate for the error command. For a large
error signal i.e. when the fin movement is not within certain range then the driver circuit
rotates the motor shaft with the saturation voltage so as to reduce the error signal and desired
position of the fin is obtained subsequently.
Thus, the desired position of the Fins is obtained using feedback loop.

Strickland, Jeffrey. Missile Flight Simulation, 2012