AUSTIN, TexasIn an initial step toward the first successful rendezvous and docking of very small satellites without human control, a pair of miniature "picosatellites" built by University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University engineering students will be launched into orbit this month from Space Shuttle Endeavour.
In the process, the students will try to accomplish what only multi-million-dollar space missions have attempted: the autonomous docking and rendezvous of satellites. In this case, they'll be using picosatellites, named for being very compact and lightweight.
The satellites, five-inch cubes weighing seven pounds, will be jettisoned into low-Earth orbit from Space Shuttle Endeavour during the STS-127 mission scheduled for launch June 13. The mission, dubbed LONESTAR, is a collaboration among NASA's Johnson Space Center and the two universities.
"Having this complicated process performed without human control is a great challenge for any spacecraft but more so for picosatellites," said Robert Bishop, chairman of the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics and principal investigator of the project.
It's the first of four missions planned over eight years that include a gradual build-up to the goal of rendezvous and docking: having the two satellites, or spacecraft, meeting at a desired point in space starting from different locations (the rendezvous portion) and connecting to become a single vehicle (the docking sequence) all without human control.
The goal for the June mission will be to demonstrate undocking from the Space Shuttle and separation of the two picosatellites, which launch as one unit. Then, they will collect several orbits of position data from both hemispheres by testing a new NASA Global Positioning System receiver (DRAGON) aboard the satellites, and then downlink the data to a ground station at the university.
"This is a simple starting point,"
|Contact: Robert Bishop|
University of Texas at Austin