Aerospace department launches ‘nanosatellites’

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The U.S. Air Force will launch two satellites from Alaska this evening constructed by the UT Satellite Design Lab after seven years of development. University graduate and undergraduate students designed the pair of “nanosatellites,” known as FASTRAC, to present more cost-effective hardware solutions to aeronautical agencies such as NASA. The satellites together cost $250,000 in hardware, paid for as part of an Air Force competition. While the Air Force will launch the satellites as one unit on Friday, they will split into two after a few weeks in space. Students will then collect data to study the relationship between the instruments in space by observing how the satellites communicate with one another as they orbit around the earth. The launch of FASTRAC 1 and FASTRAC 2 will occur along with six satellites from other universities and agencies including NASA Ames and the Air Force Academy. Student project manager Sebastian Munoz, an aerospace engineering graduate student, said he has enjoyed watching the project grow from a concept to a functional unit as a FASTRAC member for five years. “It is an incredible experience getting to build something from the ground up and actually launching it in space,” he said. “It has been an extraordinary ride, giving us the opportunity to learn a lot of theories by experimentation.” Aerospace engineering senior Philip Barcelon said the experience provided them with a strong engineering foundation because of the work done with radio-frequency and satellite communication. “It is a profound understanding that the classroom could not give us,” he said. “These are the skills we will be using in the workforce.” Barcelon said he encourages younger students to get involved in the engineering field. “If another such project comes up in the future, we don’t want to lack people,” he said. “Aeronautics is a field that will always need innovative engineers.” Aerospace engineering professor Glenn Lightsey, the faculty adviser who submitted the project proposal, said this shows building a satellite isn’t as abstract as it may seem. “It is really exciting to know that you don’t necessarily need 20 years of experience to build a satellite,” he said.