Satellites Undergoing Testing at AFRL
August 27, 2006
(The following article will appear in the next issue of Liftoff, the Aerospace Engineering Department's newsletter).
When you look skyward next year on a starry night, you might be hearing the words 'Go Horns!' from space. And we are not talking about UT astronauts like Stephanie Wilson, although they might be saying it too.
This time, it will be coming from twin satellites designed and built by a team of students in the Aerospace Department. They have completed one of the most ambitious tasks ever attempted by students in our Department--to build satellites that will actually fly in space with their own hands. The project, known as FASTRAC (Formation Autonomy Satellite with Thrust, Relnav, Attitude, and Crosslink), is designed to demonstrate key technologies for miniaturized satellite formation flying. The satellites weigh about 20 kg each and are the size of a car tire. The two satellites work together to communicate and navigate off each other. By developing and demonstrating these new technologies, UT students are advancing the cause for future satellites that will work in groups-such as planet-finding space telescopes, and autonomous servicing and repair missions.
If you have been reading previous editions of Liftoff, then you have been following FASTRAC's progress. To recap: UT entered a national competition with 12 other universities to design and build a small satellite (called a 'nanosatellite') experiment. The prize was a winner-take-all promise by the United States Air Force to launch the winning satellites into space. The UT team, led by students Jamin Greenbaum, Thomas Campbell, and Greg Holt, took the prize. After an additional grueling year of modifications and testing (and many sleepless nights!), FASTRAC was successfully delivered to the Air Force Research Labs in Albuquerque, New Mexico in June. It is expected to launch late in 2006 or in 2007.
At every step of the program, students had to innovate just to keep the low-cost satellites moving forward. Fitting an entire functioning satellite inside the volume of a car tire requires exceedingly tight integration clearances. The team had parts of the satellite made out of plastic molds from a fabrication lab in the Mechanical Engineering Department. This allowed them to test integration procedures and fit checks. They also built an electronically identical version of each satellite which sits on a table (known as a 'Flatsat'), so they could test and debug their electrical wiring and software. The flight fabrication had to be done in a positive air pressure 'clean tent' to limit dirt contamination, so the students built that too. Because spacecraft solar panel fabrication procedures are largely unknown outside of a few companies, the team developed their own methods for manufacturing and testing solar panels. Along the way they employed some creative cost saving methods, such as using a turkey oven to bake electronics and a food storage system to vacuum seal components. The innovative GPS receiver that they developed has been included in a US patent application. The list of 'outside the box' solutions that have actually worked goes on.
Now, the FASTRAC satellites have been delivered and are currently being environmentally tested at Kirtland Air Force Base. Once that is completed, they will be integrated to a launch vehicle (probably an unmanned rocket) and lifted into orbit. It won't be just your imagination when you hear the satellite's radio call sign from space: 'Go Horns!'
December 1, 2011 - FASTRAC Digipeating Announcement by Sebastián Muñoz
March 9, 2011 - FASTRAC is Separating!! by Sebastian Muñoz
November 20, 2010 - FASTRAC Is In Orbit! by
November 19, 2010 - FASTRAC is launching Tonight!!!! by
November 2, 2010 - FASTRAC is launching this Month!!! by S. Munoz and E. Ferguson
April 19, 2010 - FASTRAC Ready to go into Space!! by Sebastian Munoz
June 26, 2008 - FASTRAC Satellites Get Updated Software, New Antennas by Stephen Clark
March 8, 2008 - FASTRAC Satellites to Set Up and Ship Out! by Eric Hagen
August 27, 2006 - Satellites Undergoing Testing at AFRL by Glenn Lightsey
June 25, 2006 - FASTRAC Satellites Leave Texas by Greg Holt
June 14, 2006 - FASTRAC Frequency Request Submitted by Glenn Lightsey
December 15, 2005 - FASTRAC Mission Receives Critical D.O.D. Ranking for Launch by Jamin Greenbaum
April 20, 2005 - FASTRAC Personnel Changes by Glenn Lightsey
January 11, 2005 - FASTRAC Victorious, Headed to Space! by Glenn Lightsey
January 7, 2005 - FASTRAC Headed to Nevada for Competition by Glenn Lightsey
January 3, 2005 - FASTRAC Satellite Completes Thermal/Vacuum Test by Glenn Lightsey
December 19, 2004 - Satellite Integration Nears Completion by Glenn Lightsey
December 7, 2004 - FASTRAC Thermal Vac Testing Progresses by Greg Holt
November 28, 2004 - Solar Cells See Sunlight by Greg Holt
July 27, 2004 - FASTRAC Separation Test aboard KC-135 a Success! by FASTRAC team
May 15, 2004 - Balloon Satellite by FASTRAC team