Center for Space Systems News


January 11, 2013
A Georgia Tech team, led by Professor David Spencer in the School of Aerospace Engineering, was selected as the winner of the seventh University Nanosat Program (UNP) competition. Sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Air Force Research Laboratory, UNP is a two-year competition that culminated with the Flight Competition Review in Albuquerque, New Mexico on January 10-11, 2013.

The Georgia Tech Prox-1 mission is designed to demonstrate automated trajectory control in low-Earth orbit relative to a deployed cubesat. The spacecraft has been designed, fabricated and tested by a team of Georgia Tech undergraduate and graduate students who will also be responsible for mission operations. The Prox-1 spacecraft is equipped with thermal and visible imagers provided by Arizona State University. Prox-1 will deploy a smaller spacecraft, a version of The Planetary Society’s LightSailTM solar sail spacecraft. Prox-1 will fly in close proximity to LightSail, demonstrating automated trajectory control based upon relative orbit determination using passive imaging. Prox-1 will also acquire images of the LightSail solar sail deployment event, and Prox-1 will provide first-time flight validation of advanced sun sensor technology, a small satellite propulsion system, and a lightweight thermal imager.

As the winner of the UNP competition, the Prox-1 mission will receive an Air Force launch slot as a secondary payload, and additional development funding over the next two years. The Prox-1 team will complete spacecraft integration and testing, and work toward a launch in 2015.

In addition to support from the U.S. Air Force, the Prox-1 team has been supported through contributions from the Georgia Space Grant Consortium, The Aerospace Corporation, Raytheon Vision Systems, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


Georgia Tech team members display the Prox-1 spacecraft. From left: Nishant Prasadh, Trevor Siu, Ian McCreadie, Jason Frieman, Kiichiro Deluca, Richard Zappulla, Mike Veto (Arizona State University), Chris Keir.


December 12, 2012
The Reconnaissance of Space Objects (RECONSO) mission was selected by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Air Force Research Laboratory for the University Nanosatellite Program-8. The RECONSO mission will directly support the U.S. Air Force Space Situational Awareness activities by providing persistent optical tracking of objects in low-Earth orbit. The Principal Investigator for the mission is Dr. Marcus Holzinger.

August 15, 2012
Luke Walker (MS, AE 2012) received first place in the 20th annual Frank J. Redd Student Scholarship Competition at the Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah on August 15, 2012. Luke's paper is entitled "Automated Proximity Operations Using Image-Based Relative Navigation." This work focuses on the development of an automated navigation system for orbital proximity operations using continuous thrust propulsion and passive visible and infrared imaging. His research has been developed under the advisement of Prof. David Spencer as part of the Prox-1 University Nanosat project within the Center for Space Systems and the Space Systems Design Laboratory. Luke received a $10,000 award along with this honor.

Luke Walker


September 29, 2011
The Center for Space Systems Ground Station successfully received and processed digital telemetry from the International Space Station (ISS). The Ground Station's Yagi antenna received UHF signals from the ISS's Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) Digipeater, which broadcasts digital messages from amateur radio operators across the world. These radio signals were decoded by Ground Station software into readable digital messages. This is an important step in testing the capabilities of the Ground Station and developing the ability to communicate with CSS missions in the future.

Center for Space Systems Ground Station


December 8, 2010
The Small Probes for Orbital Return of Experiments (SPORE) project has been selected for funding within the NASA Small Business Technology Transfer program. The SPORE flight system architecture will utilize a modular design approach to provide low-cost on-orbit operation and recovery of small payloads. The Phase 1 investigation will evaluate a scalable flight system architecture consisting of a service module for on-orbit operations and deorbit maneuvering, and an entry vehicle to perform atmospheric entry, descent and landing. Flight system designs capable of accommodating payload volumes ranging from 1,000 cm3 to 4,000 cm3 will be developed. SPORE will provide a platform for biological science investigations, materials science, and thermal protection system flight experiments. SPORE is a partnership between the Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for Space Systems and Aurora Flight Sciences.

August 9, 2010
The R3 design team went through Proto-Qualification Review (PQR) in Logan, UT, as part of the University Nanosatellite Program's review process. This review gave the team the opportunity to update AFRL, AFOSR, and industry reviewers on the R3 mission concept, design, and hardware build status. The R3 team also brought a demonstration board of flight components known as a Flat-Sat. The Flat-Sat demonstrated some of the key functionality of the R3 mission, including visible camera control, image processing algorithms, and magnetic torque rod operation. PQR and the Flat-Sat demonstration occurred as a part of the Small Satellite Conference at Utah State University.

June 13, 2010
Four students traveled to Boulder, CO, to participate in the Student Hands-On Training (SHOT) II workshop at the University of Colorado. Sponsored by Colorado Space Grant Consortium, the workshop allowed students to fly payloads in an Edge of Space environment using high altitude weather balloons. The Georgia Tech team designed and built their payload, the Cube Root Balloonsat, during the months leading up to the workshop. The payload was designed to test certain aspects of R3 instrument functionality. Cube Root contained the R3 flight computer, prototype radiation dosimeter, and visible camera, as well as a rudimentary power system. The team presented on the design and mission plan of the project before flying the payload on Saturday. Cube Root flew on a weather balloon up to an altitude of 85 miles before the balloon burst and the payloads returned to Earth, where they were recovered. Unfortunately, the Cube Root instruments did not operate successfully and no data was retrieved. However, the students gained a great deal of flight hardware experience and developed software necessary for the R3 mission.

Image captured from student-built balloon satellite during SHOT II flight.


March 1, 2010
For the R3 mission's Critical Design Review, four University Nanosat Program reviewers came to Georgia Tech for an in depth review of the mission, subsystems, and hardware. This review lasted for almost a full twelve hours and consisted of presentations and tours of Georgia Tech's facilities. During the students' presentations, the reviewers grilled the student team on every aspect of the mission and on all of their design choices, bringing to light factors that the students may not have considered previously. At the end of the day, despite the intense feedback, the students felt as if they had done quite well, and though they still have a long way to go, they knew they were on the right track.

February 3, 2010
Professor Braun was named NASA's Chief Technologist on February 3, 2010. In this capacity, he will serve as the NASA Administrator's principal advisor and advocate on matters concerning agency-wide technology policy and programs. He will also develop an advanced space systems concepts and technology development program leading to new approaches to future NASA missions and solutions to significant national needs.

August 14, 2009
The R3 mission had its Preliminary Design Review (PDR) in Logan, Utah. At the review, the student team gave a 45 minute presentation detailing their mission and the design process behind it in front of over 15 reviewers. The reviewers were men and women from industry who had firsthand experience with the systems the students were describing. After the presentation, the reviewers asked questions and gave feedback. Detailed written feedback was also forwarded to all the schools after the presentation. The feedback was most useful, and the R3 design team will be taking it into account as they enter the detailed design phase.

June 13, 2009
Four members of the R3 team attended the Student Hands On Workshop I (SHOT I) in Boulder, Colorado, with the other competing University teams. For four days, these graduate and undergraduate students learned practical techniques for building a satellite and applied these techniques to building a small BalloonSat. The BalloonSat's payload was a visible camera that took pictures of the ascent and descent, as well as a temperature and pressure transducer that measured the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere at the varying altitudes. The BalloonSat rose to 85,000 ft by means of a weather balloon before the balloon popped and the BalloonSat began its descent. The BalloonSat and its data were recovered by the team members.

From left to right: Katie Milway, Sarah McNeese, Luke Walker, and Mandy Pietruszewski


December 1, 2008
The Center for Space System mission, Rapid Reconnaissance and Response (R3), was selected by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research University Nanosat Program. The R3 mission demonstrates the autonomous detection of a thermal target of interest via satellite remote sensing, and relays the target coordinates to an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for high-resolution imaging. The satellite and UAV systems will be developed and operated by Georgia Tech students. In the University Nanosat program, several universities are competitively selected to develop small satellite systems (< 50 kg in mass) during a two-year development cycle. The winning team is awarded a launch as a secondary payload courtesy of the United States Air Force. Through Georgia Tech's Center for Space Systems, the R3 mission will engage more than 60 students at the senior and graduate student levels, spanning the Schools of Aerospace Engineering, Earth and Atmospheric Science, and Electrical and Computer Engineering.

August 1, 2008
The Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering is pleased to announce that David A. Spencer will begin an appointment as Professor of the Practice and Director of the Center for Space Systems. Expanding upon the School's core strength in space systems design, Dave is leading a new educational and research program focused on space flight projects and mission operations. As a central part of the Georgia Tech Center for Space Systems, Dave is developing laboratory space that will eventually house a mission operations center, tracking station, and space flight hardware development facility. This year, Professor Spencer will also co-teach senior space systems design (AE 4356 and AE 4357) with Professor Carlee Bishop.


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