Spaceflight Projects

Through its emphasis on space flight projects, the Center provides undergraduates and graduate students with hands-on experience and real-world application of principles learned in the classroom and laboratory environments. From the initial mission concept development through detailed subsystem design, system-level testing and mission operations and data analysis, students are exposed to the full lifecycle of space flight projects. This experience positions the students to develop into system engineering leaders in the aerospace community.

RECONSO University Cubesat Mission

RECONnaissance of Space Objects (RECONSO) is a student-led cubesat participant in the current University Nanosatellite Program (UNP-8) competition supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). RECONSO will place an optical payload in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to enable low-cost unqueued space object detection and tracking. Inertial bearing and apparent magnitude measurement will be processed on-board and downlinked to Georgia Tech for further processing and distribution. This data will directly support efforts to mitigate the threat of space debris to national and international space assets by supplementing existing Space Surveillance Network (SSN) sensors.

Prox-1 University Nanosat Mission

The Prox-1 mission will demonstrate proximity operations for space situational awareness, through the use of a low thrust propulsion system for orbital maneuvering, and visible and infrared imaging for reconnaissance. The Prox-1 mission is directly applicable to Air Force Space Command’s priority to develop and maintain complete knowledge of assets in the on-orbit environment.

Prox-1 will conduct rendezvous and proximity operations with an on-orbit “objective”: the expended launch vehicle that delivers Prox-1 to orbit. Through multiple circumnavigations of the objective while acquiring visible and infrared images, a three-dimensional model of the objective will be developed and material properties will be established. The orbit of the objective will be determined, and a time-history of the objective attitude will be acquired. As an extended mission goal, Prox-1 will conduct proximity operations with additional objects in the near-space environment. The primary mission duration is three months.

Small Probes for Orbital Return of Experiments

The Georgia Institute of Technology has partnered with Aurora Flight Sciences to develop Small Probes for Orbital Return of Experiments (SPORE) 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. The SPORE design can be launched as a primary or secondary payload into low-Earth orbit or geosynchronous transfer orbit, conduct up to one month of orbital operations, and perform Earth return. The concept study will also investigate SPORE flight system deployment from the International Space Station. SPORE is being developed within the Center for Space Systems at Georgia Tech. The Principal Investigator is Prof. David Spencer of the School of Aerospace Engineering.


Lightsail is a Planetary Society project with the goal of demonstrating the effective use of solar sails for satellite control and movement. While the concept of solar sailing is not new, it is only relatively recently that the prospect of propelling a satellite through space using only radiation emanated from the sun has become practically feasible. The Planetary Society hopes to pioneer this new and exciting area of research and has assembled a team of partners including Georgia Tech, California Polytechnic State University, and Stellar Exploration Inc. to carry it forward. Lightsail-1, the first of three planned satellites, is currently under development with an anticipated launch date in 2011. Lightsail-1 is being developed largely as a technology demonstrator for the sail deployment and control mechanisms. Following launch, Lightsail-1 will conduct a several week mission during which it will deploy its sail and undertake a series of controlled maneuvers. By manipulating the orientation of the sail with respect to the sun, the force of the solar radiation against the sail can be controlled which will ultimately result in a measurable change in the satellite's orbit. CSS at Georgia Tech is providing technical assistance and will be managing the mission operations from our ground station throughout the Lightsail-1 mission. Future Lightsail missions will expand upon the experience gained with Lightsail-1 with the aim of continuing to pioneer solar sail technology as a viable means of propulsion.

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