First student-developed mission in which satellites orbit and communicate led by UT students

Mar 24, 2011

Two satellites designed and constructed by students at the Cockrell School of Engineering successfully separated in space March 22, completing the most crucial goal of the mission since its Nov. 19 launch and making them the first student-developed mission in the world in which satellites orbit and communicate with each other in real-time.

The satellites separated March 22 at 6:35 a.m. Central Standard Time. Now that they're apart, the 60-plus pound, tire-sized satellites will be able to perform the main goals of the project and could pave the way for more complex satellite missions that require real-time coordination between small satellites.

Traditionally, larger and expensive satellites have been commonplace in space missions but the satellites developed by more than 150 graduate and undergraduate could demonstrate the potential for space technology that's more affordable and accessible—a forward-looking approach that's attracted the interest of the Air Force and NASA.

The smaller satellites could also help prevent tragedies like the Columbia space shuttle disaster, which, unknown to the shuttle's crew, had a hole in the left wing that caused it to disintegrate upon reentry to the Earth's atmosphere Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven onboard.

"If they would have had the technology that could go outside the shuttle and inspect it, then the hole could have been discovered," Lightsey said.

The students, led by their faculty advisor Professor Glenn Lightsey, built the satellites over the course of seven years using a shoestring hardware budget of $250,000 — a small amount compared to the millions typically spent on spacecraft missions.

They were launched into orbit from Alaska's Kodiak Launch Complex in November, a moment that was considered the pinnacle of the students' years of work. But the real moment of truth came early Tuesday morning when they separated, said Lightsey.

"We had to work through some problems on the satellites to get the separation to occur, but the student-team figured out a way to get the command to work. I am very proud of all of them," said Lightsey. "We have achieved a true first in spacecraft engineering."

The satellites will collect scientific data and be able to report their location and proximity to each other to students and amateur radio operators tracking their orbit some 400 miles above.

Explore further: Water fleas prepared for trip to space

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Student-built satellite scheduled for launch

Sep 08, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A 6.5-pound satellite is scheduled to become the first stand-alone spacecraft built by Michigan students to go into orbit and perform a science mission.

NASA's micro-satellites complete mission

Jun 30, 2006

NASA says its three orbiting micro-satellites known as Space Technology 5 have completed their planned 90-day mission and will conclude operations.

Recommended for you

Water fleas prepared for trip to space

4 hours ago

Local 'Daphnia' waterfleas are currently being prepared by scientists at the University of Birmingham for their trip to the International Space Station (ISS), where they will be observed by astronauts.

The worst trip around the world

4 hours ago

As you celebrate the end of the year in the warmth of your home, spare a thought for the organisms riding with a third-class ticket on the International Space Station – bolted to the outside with no protection ...

Four Galileo satellites at ESA test centre

5 hours ago

ESA engineers unwrapped a welcome Christmas present: the latest Galileo satellite. The navigation satellite will undergo a full checkout in Europe's largest satellite test facility to prove its readiness ...

Funding challenges for Orion and SLS

5 hours ago

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of Congress, which exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.