An expendable dropsonde used to capture weather data. The telemetry consists of sensors for pressure, temperature, and humidity and a wireless transmitter to return the captured data to an aircraft.
Telemetry is an automated communications process by which measurements and other data are collected at remote or inaccessible points and transmitted to receiving equipment for monitoring. The word is derived from Greek roots: tele = remote, and metron = measure. Systems that need external instructions and data to operate require the counterpart of telemetry, telecommand.
Although the term commonly refers to wireless data transfer mechanisms (e.g., using radio, ultrasonic, or infrared systems), it also encompasses data transferred over other media such as a telephone or computer network, optical link or other wired communications like power line carriers. Many modern telemetry systems take advantage of the low cost and ubiquity of GSM networks by using SMS to receive and transmit telemetry data.
A telemeter is a device used to remotely measure any quantity. It consists of a sensor, a transmission path, and a display, recording, or control device. Telemeters are the physical devices used in telemetry. Electronic devices are widely used in telemetry and can be wireless or hard-wired, analog or digital. Other technologies are also possible, such as mechanical, hydraulic and optical.
Telemetry may be commutated to allow the transmission of multiple data streams in a fixed frame.
Telemetering information over wire had its origins in the 19th century. One of the first data-transmission circuits was developed in 1845 between the Russian Tsar's Winter Palace and army headquarters. In 1874, French engineers built a system of weather and snow-depth sensors on Mont Blanc that transmitted real-time information to Paris. In 1901 the American inventor C. Michalke patented the selsyn, a circuit for sending synchronized rotation information over a distance. In 1906 a set of seismic stations were built with telemetering to the Pulkovo Observatory in Russia. In 1912, Commonwealth Edison developed a system of telemetry to monitor electrical loads on its power grid. The Panama Canal (completed 1913–1914) used extensive telemetry systems to monitor locks and water levels.
Wireless telemetry made early appearances in the radiosonde, developed concurrently in 1930 by Robert Bureau in France and Pavel Molchanov in Russia. Molchanov's system modulated temperature and pressure measurements by converting them to wireless Morse code. The German V-2 rocket used a system of primitive multiplexed radio signals called "Messina" to report four rocket parameters, but it was so unreliable that Wernher von Braun once claimed it was more useful to watch the rocket through binoculars. In the US and the USSR, the Messina system was quickly replaced with better systems (in both cases, based on pulse-position modulation).
Early Soviet missile and space telemetry systems which were developed in the late 1940s used either pulse-position modulation (e.g., the Tral telemetry system developed by OKB-MEI) or pulse-duration modulation (e.g., the RTS-5 system developed by NII-885). In the United States, early work employed similar systems, but were later replaced by pulse-code modulation (PCM) (for example, in the Mars probe Mariner 4). Later Soviet interplanetary probes used redundant radio systems, transmitting telemetry by PCM on a decimeter band and PPM on a centimeter band.