Satellites Built By UT Students To Be Launched Into Space

FASTRAC satellites being assembledNot only does what start here change the world, in two days’ time it will orbit the world, as well.

Two satellites about the size of car tires, hand-made by UT students, will be launched into space Friday from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska.

Weighing 60+ pounds each and built over seven years, the prototype FASTRACs are part of a U.S. Air Force-supported project to develop cheaper, more compact satellites and future space professionals to build them.

UT beat out 11 other universities to win the project, known as University Nanostat-3.

“It feels like the culmination of a lot of years of work and it’s very exciting and nerve-racking knowing that something you built with your own hands is flying into space,” said Sebastian Muñoz, the aerospace engineering graduate student at the Cockrell School who managed the project.

With NASA and the U.S. space program in flux, programs such as these are looking to make the final frontier a bit cheaper to navigate.

The team had a $250,000 hardware budget, a fraction of the cost to build a normal satellite.

About 150 graduate students and undergrads worked in a small, two-room laboratory on campus to build the satellites mostly out of aluminum and titanium using technical guidelines provided by NASA.

“It’s a great opportunity to get a look at what it feels like to be in an aerospace company or government agency, from design to building and testing it to seeing it launch in space,” faculty advisor Glenn Lightsey said. “As aerospace engineers, that’s what we live for, to see our stuff go into space.”

The launch is scheduled for 7:24 p.m. Central time on Friday, the 19th. Once in space, the two satellites will separate and travel so fast as to circumnavigate the globe every two hours.

A major goal of the project is to see if the two can communicate with each other in real time.

The team won’t know if the satellites are working properly until they do or don’t receive communication as the two go racing over Austin early Saturday morning.

Above: The FASTRAC satellites being prepared for launch (U.S. Air Force photo by Lou Hernandez/Released). Below: Members of UT’s FASTRAC team, photo courtesy of the Cockrell School. 


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