UT’s Satellite Design Lab wins first place in National Nanosatellite Competition


Courtesy Photo

More than 50 undergraduate and graduate students helped to construct ARMADILLO, a small satellite that won first place in the national University Nanosatellite Program competition.

Alexandra Dubinsky

For the second time since 2005, UT’s Satellite Design Lab won first place in the national University Nanosatellite Program competition, held in Albuquerque, N.M., at the Air Force Research Laboratories. For two years, more than 50 undergraduate and graduate students helped to construct ARMADILLO, a small satellite that was chosen above 9 other competing universities. 

Sponsored by the U.S. Air Force, the National Nanosatellite Competition funds selected universities with a research grant. The winning satellite is awarded a two-year grant of $55,000 along with the promise to launch their satellite into space.

ARMADILLO stands for Atmosphere Related Measurements and Detection of SubmILLimeter Objects. Engineering professor Glenn Lightsey, who runs the Satellite Design Lab, said that ARMADILLO is a game-changing technology for the aerospace industry.

“It will be taking some new measurements of space debris that have never been made before, and we hope to gain more understanding of how much debris there is in space and how it interacts with the atmosphere,” Lightsey said.

According to Lightsey, the small size of ARMADILLO represents another groundbreaking change in aerospace engineering.

“The fact that it is so small is powerful because it can be launched into space much more easily and at much lower cost than a bigger satellite,” Lightsey said. “This technology provides more affordable access to space, which means more projects can be done in space at lower cost than ever before.“

Aerospace engineering graduate student Katharine Brumbaugh, the student project manager for ARMADILLO, said in addition to the advancement that ARMADILLO has on space research, hands-on projects improve the student experience. 

“Many times we think we know the material, but then real-life complications set in and you have to find a new solution,” Brumbaugh said. “Working on ARMADILLO and in the Satellite Design Lab allows students to learn how to deal with these situations on tangible products.”

While ARMADILLO is expected to launch within the next year, Brumbaugh said she looks ahead to reaping more benefits due to winning the competition. 

“Winning ARMADILLO is validation that all that work was worth the effort, and proves to our contemporaries that the UT-Austin Satellite Design Lab is not just a student organization, but that we’re accomplishing real things and providing useful and meaningful data and technology to customers like NASA and the Department of Defense,” Brumbaugh said.

The team’s previous winning entry, FASTRAC, which consists of a pair of nanosatellites, was launched in 2010. Currently, the lab is studying how the two satellities interact in space. 

Printed on Thursday, February 7, 2013 as: ARMADILLO wins UT team first place