Research

University Satellite Missions

Georgia Tech has 5 small satellite missions in design and awaiting launch. Each mission demonstrates a new space technology and/or performs a science experiment. All the missions listed below are designed, built, operated by students working in the SSDL.

The Ranging And Nanosatellite Guidance Experiment (RANGE)

The RANGE mission concept features two 1.5U CubeSats.

Status: Launching in 2018

The Ranging And Nanosatellite Guidance Experiment (RANGE) CubeSat mission is a recipient of the Terra Bella (formerly Skybox) University CubeSat Partnership, with an expected launch in mid-2018. 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 which are 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. RANGE is scheduled to launch on a Falcon-9 rocket in mid-2018.

Prox-1

The PROX-1 flight unit satellite at final integration.
Image Credit: AFRL

Status: Launching in 2018

The Prox-1 mission will deploy LightSail-2, a solar sail CubeSat built by The Planetary Society, and provides an optical target for attitude and orbit determination research of space objects. Prox-1 is an ESPA-class microsatellite that was designed, fabricated and tested as a part of the University Nanosatellite Program (UNP) which is sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Air Force Research Laboratory. The project has encompassed 7 years of development since 2011 with contributions from over 400 Georgia Tech undergraduate and graduate students. Prox-1 is a microsatellite with a mass of 80 kg and volume of a 22” x 24” x 12” (approx. 75U), and LightSail-2 is a 5 kg, 3U CubeSat. Students are responsible for mission operations and monitoring of both Prox-1 and LightSail-2 after launch. As the winner of the seventh UNP competition, Prox-1 received an Air Force launch slot as a secondary payload alongside STP-2, with a planned launch in 2018 on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.

RECONSO

The RECONSO mission patch.

Status: Launching in 2019

RECONnaissance of Space Objects (RECONSO) is a student-led CubeSat mission and participant in the University Nanosatellite Program (UNP), supported by the Air Force Research Lab. The RECONSO spacecraft is a 7 kg, 6U Cubesat with an optical payload, which is able to orient itself with magnetic torque rods, and determine its location and orientation with GPS and visual star tracking data. These systems allow the spacecraft to autonomously detect and track space debris in Low-Earth Orbit, providing a low-cost alternative to current custom debris tracking systems. During its 6-month mission, RECONSO will identify the inertial bearings and apparent magnitude measurements of resident space objects in the 1 cm - 10 cm size range, and downlink this information to a student-operated ground station located at Georgia Tech, via both UHF and Globalstar communication.

MicroNimbus

MicroNimbus mission concept of operations.

Status: Launching in 2020

MicroNimbus is a small satellite mission being developed by the School of Aerospace Engineering, School of Electrical Computer Engineering, and Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) that will utilize a frequency-agile mm-wave radiometer to measure and update global vertical temperature profiles of the Earth's atmosphere from a 3U CubeSat platform. The satellite bus will be the first implementation of an in-house, versatile, reusable, and reliable 3U platform being designed by the SSDL. The on-board radiometer instrument will provide atmospheric temperature profile data at an altitude resolution of 10 km, a geographic resolution of 0.5°, and a temperature resolution of 2K RMS. The mission strongly aligns with the goals set forth in NASA’s Science Plan and will generate data valuable to researchers in the fields of weather forecasting, LIDAR, and laser communications. MicroNimbus has passed its Preliminary Design Review (PDR) phase and is moving towards the Critical Design Review (CDR) for the mission. MicroNimbus will serve as a first step towards the creation of a constellation of satellites designed to perform near real-time global temperature profiling of the atmosphere.

TARGIT: The Tethering And Ranging mission of the Georgia Institute of Technology

The TARGIT mission concept of operations.

Status: Launching in 2020

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, the 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. Furthermore, the mission will be able to accomplish its mission objectives in any low-Earth orbit altitude, making it an ideal candidate for future rideshare opportunities. The project team would consist of a mixture of science and engineering undergraduate students that would be guided and trained throughout the project lifecycle by faculty and graduate students with prior cubesat and lidar experience. Students develop leadership skills by serving in subsystem lead roles, and by presenting project results at conferences. This project is supported by NASA’s Undergraduate Student Instrument Program (USIP).