The following research projects are currently underway in SSDL.
Prox-1 University Nanosat Mission
The Prox-1 mission will demonstrate automated trajectory control for on-orbit inspection of a deployed CubeSat. The Prox-1 spacecraft has been designed, fabricated and tested by a team of Georgia Tech undergraduate and graduate students who will also be responsible for mission operations. The 50 kg Prox-1 will deploy a 5 kg CubeSat, a version of The Planetary Society's LightSail solar sail spacecraft. Prox-1 will fly in close proximity to LightSail (50-150 m), demonstrating automated trajectory control based upon relative orbit determination using infrared imaging. Visible images of the LightSail solar sail deployment event will be acquired and downlinked by Prox-1. The Prox-1 mission will also provide first-time flight validation of advanced sun sensor technology, a small satellite propulsion system, and a lightweight thermal imager. The mission is funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, through the University Nanosatellite Program (UNP). As the winner of the seventh UNP competition, Prox-1 will receive an Air Force launch slot as a secondary payload, with a planned launch date of August 2015.
Advanced robotic and human missions to Mars require landed masses well in excess of current capabilities. To safely land these large payloads on the Mars surface, the propulsive capability currently applied during subsonic descent must be extended to supersonic initiation velocities (i.e. Supersonic Retro-Propulsion (SRP)). However, to date, no rocket propulsion system has been operated while opposing a supersonic freestream. To address this deficiency, SSDL is working with NASA in the planning and execution of a series of hot-fire tests designed to mitigate the risks of real-gas aeroscience interactions, propulsion startup and transition to steady-state operation in flight-relevant conditions. Sponsored by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, this research is being performed in collaboration with researchers at the NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Langley Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerators
Material advances enable consideration of hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerators and a suite of new supersonic aerodynamic decelerators to remove constraints encountered by present entry, descent and landing technology. Relative to current rigid aeroshells and supersonic parachutes developed in the 1960s, these advanced systems improve timeline margin and surface elevation access while increasing payload mass. SSDL analysis capabilities focus on validated prediction the aeroelastic performance, structural integrity and aerodynamic stability of these devices. Research in this area is sponsored by the NASA Langley Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in support of the NASA Space Technology Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator and Low Density Supersonic Decelerator projects and the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in support of a Mesospheric Dust Sample Return mission concept.
RECONSO University Cubesat Mission
RECONnaissance of Space Objects (RECONSO) is a student-led cubesat participant in the current University Nanosatellite Program (UNP-8) competition supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). RECONSO will place an optical payload in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to enable low-cost unqueued space object detection and tracking. Inertial bearing and apparent magnitude measurement will be processed on-board and downlinked to Georgia Tech for further processing and distribution. This data will directly support efforts to mitigate the threat of space debris to national and international space assets by supplementing existing Space Surveillance Network (SSN) sensors.
The Ranging And Nanosatellite Guidance Experiment (RANGE)
The Ranging And Nanosatellite Guidance Experiment (RANGE) cubesat mission was recently selected for a flight opportunity as part of the Terra Bella (formerly Skybox) University Cubesat Partnership, with a tentative launch date scheduled for 2016. The RANGE mission involves two 1.5U cubesats flying in a leader-follower formation with the goal of improving the relative and absolute positioning capabilities of nanosatellites. The satellites' absolute positions will be tracked using GPS receivers synchronized with miniaturized atomic clocks, and will be validated using ground-based laser ranging measurements. The relative position of the satellites will be measured using an on-board compact laser ranging system, which will also double as a low-rate optical intersatellite communication system at close range. The primary communication system is a UHF software-defined radio that will transmit and receive all mission data/telecommands from the Georgia Tech ground station. The satellites will not have an active propulsion system, so the separation distance of the satellites will be controlled through differential drag techniques. The results of the mission should serve to enable more advanced payloads and future mission concepts involving formations and constellations of nanosatellites. The principal investigator for RANGE is SSDL's Prof. Brian Gunter, with SSDL co-Investigators Prof. Glenn Lightsey and Prof. Robert Braun.
Development of an imaging LiDAR cubesat mission for planetary applications
The objective of this project is to provide a group of select and talented undergraduates hands-on experience on all aspects of the development of a satellite mission. Under the guidance of faculty, staff, and graduate students, an undergraduate student team will assemble, test, and integrate a miniaturized LiDAR imaging camera into a 3U cubesat. A parallel development will also design and test a deployable inflatable that will serve as the lidar camera's primary imaging target. The goal of the cubesat mission is to demonstrate cm-level altimetry precision over tens of kilometers. The applications for a compact laser altimetry system are numerous, and are particularly valuable for planetary missions involving the topographic mapping of planetary bodies such as moons and near-Earth asteroids. This project is sponsored by NASA's Undergraduate Student Instrument Program (USIP), with work starting in Fall 2016, and a projected launch date in late 2018. The principal investigator for this mission is SSDL's Prof. Brian Gunter, with SSDL co-Investigator Prof. Glenn Lightsey, and GTRI's Dr. Grady Tuell.