OTC News Archive

FASTRAC satellites survive orbit

March 2, 2011

Two satellites designed and constructed by students at the Cockrell School of Engineering have passed two major milestones since their launch Nov. 19 from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska.

The 60-plus pound satellites, named Emma and Sara Lily, survived orbit during the most extreme hot conditions they will face in space—orbiting for hours in front of the sun—and in the coldest conditions, being directly behind the Earth’s shadow.

“We wanted to make sure the satellites could live through that and the fact that they did and seem to be working is a good sign that they will last a long time in space,” said aerospace engineering Professor Glenn Lightsey, who served as faculty advisor to students working on the project, known as FASTRAC.

VIEW an animation on YouTube of how the student-developed satellites work in space.

The project is part of the University Nanosat-3 Program started in 2003 and sponsored by the Air Force with the goal of developing space technology that’s more affordable and accessible than the larger, costly satellites that are commonplace in space missions. In January 2005, The University of Texas at Austin bested 11 other universities and won the program’s grant-based competition to launch the FASTRAC satellites into space.

The satellites were designed, built, and tested by more than 150 students over seven years. In late November, the students’ work came to fruition with the satellites’ launch.

The next major hurdle for the satellites will come later this spring when they separate in orbit. Once apart, they’ll be the first student-developed mission in which satellites orbit and communicate with each other in real-time.

“We should be gathering a lot of interesting scientific data [during separation],” Lightsey said. “They’ll be collecting data on each satellite and sharing it with each other and us.”

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