But the “pico satellite” being designed and built in a University of Florida aerospace engineering laboratory may hold a key to a future of easy access to outer space — one where sending satellites into orbit is as routine and inexpensive as shipping goods around the world.
“Right now, the way satellites are built, they’re all large, one-of-a-kind and very expensive,” says Norman Fitz-Coy, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the lead investigator on the project. “Our idea is that you could mass produce these small satellites and launch 10 or 20 from a single launch vehicle.”
The satellite is the first ever built at UF and may be the first orbiting spacecraft to be built in Florida, said Peggy Evanich, director of space research programs at UF.
Fifty-one years ago, the former Soviet Union inaugurated the space race with the launch of Sputnik. Since then, satellites have transformed communications, navigation and climatology, as well as science and the military. But satellites remain large, ranging in size from basketball to school bus proportions; expensive, with costs typically in the hundreds of millions to billions of dollars; and slowly hand-built as one-of-a-kind devices, rather than speedily mass produced, Fitz-Coy said.
Scientists and engineers now hope to change that legacy.
“There is a national push to make satellites smaller so that you can provide cheaper and more frequent access to space,” he said.
As part of that push, the National Science Foundation this fall created the Advanced Space Technologies Research and Engineering Center at the UF College of Engineering. Headed by Fitz-Coy, the center will seek to develop “pico- and nano-class small satellites” that can be built and launched for as little as $100,000 to $500,000, according to the NSF. The UF center will receive NSF funding for five years for the research.
Fitz-Coy said small satellites are not anticipated to totally replace larger ones, but rather to complement them by adding new capabilities. For example, he said, “swarms” of small satellites could take multiple, distributed measurements or observations of weather phenomena, or the Earth’s magnetic fields, providing a more comprehensive assessment than is possible with a single satellite.
“People are looking toward these to not totally replace the big satellites but to supplement what the big satellites are doing,” he said.
He said the main impediment to designing small satellites is control: The smaller the satellite, the harder it is to manage its flight path and attitude, or orientation in space – for example, which directions its instruments point, a critical parameter in spacecraft design.
“It’s similar to you driving an SUV down the road or a sub-compact,” Fitz-Coy said, explaining that while inertia helps large satellites, it is not enough to keep small satellites on track and properly oriented. “The SUV is a lot more stable than the sub-compact.”
The goal of the UF satellite, nicknamed SwampSAT, is to test a new system designed to improve small satellites’ attitude control. Having precise control is particularly important for such satellites because they have to fly relatively close to Earth so that their weak communications signals can reach their targets, he said. Because of their proximity to Earth, their instruments must be precisely aimed.
“They need to be able to control their orientation and re-orient rapidly,” he said.
Fitz-Coy and about 12 undergraduate and graduate students began the project last year and hope to complete SwampSAT late this year or early next year, he said.
The cost is anticipated to be about $100,000, with a launch in 2009 – likely aboard an unmanned NASA rocket carrying other payloads as well. The satellite will fly at an altitude of between 600 and 650 kilometers, or from 373 to 404 miles, and will remain in orbit for several years, Fitz-Coy said.
A container that could be standardized for use in transporting the small satellites aboard the rocket also is being developed. As with the satellites themselves, the goal is mass production – to be able to transport satellites to outer space much the same way that ships and trucks transport goods around the terrestrial world now, Fitz-Coy said.
Norman Fitz-Coy | EurekAlert!
MSU astronomers discovered supermassive black hole in an ultracompact dwarf galaxy
14.08.2018 | Lomonosov Moscow State University
ASU astrophysicist helps discover that ultrahot planets have starlike atmospheres
13.08.2018 | Arizona State University
Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.
When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...
Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.
Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....
Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.
Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...
Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur
What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...
The quality of materials often depends on the manufacturing process. In casting and welding, for example, the rate at which melts solidify and the resulting microstructure of the alloy is important. With metallic foams as well, it depends on exactly how the foaming process takes place. To understand these processes fully requires fast sensing capability. The fastest 3D tomographic images to date have now been achieved at the BESSY II X-ray source operated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.
Dr. Francisco Garcia-Moreno and his team have designed a turntable that rotates ultra-stably about its axis at a constant rotational speed. This really depends...
08.08.2018 | Event News
27.07.2018 | Event News
25.07.2018 | Event News
14.08.2018 | Information Technology
14.08.2018 | Life Sciences
14.08.2018 | Life Sciences