TSL students
From left to right: Aerospace engineering students Shivani Patel and Ashleigh Caison, and alumnus Parker Francis, B.S. ASE '14, with Bevo-2 during testing before the satellite was sent to NASA-JSC. View more photos here.

Bevo-2, a small satellite that was designed and built by Cockrell School of Engineering students in the Texas Spacecraft Lab (TSL), launched to the International Space Station on Dec. 6 alongside Texas A&M’s AggieSat4. The two satellites are part of the LONESTAR program, a partnership between The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M and NASA Johnson Space Center.

Once deployed into space, Texas A&M's AggieSat4 and UT's Bevo-2 will work together on orbit to demonstrate guidance algorithms, inter-satellite communication schemes, and other technologies.

The primary goal of LONESTAR, which stands for Low Earth Orbiting Navigation Experiment for Spacecraft Testing Autonomous Rendezvous and docking, is to develop and demonstrate Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking (AR&D) technologies suitable for small spacecraft platforms.

AR&D involves a spacecraft approaching and docking with another orbiting object without control or input from human operators and requires very complex technology. The docking spacecraft needs to know where it is in space, where its target is located, and how it is rotated with respect to the orbiting object. To date, there has never been a rendezvous demonstration of any kind by small spacecraft.

If successful, the rendezvous could prove helpful to future space missions that would normally require human operation of a robotic arm. Historically, an astronaut has manually controlled all previous docking maneuvers that involved the Space Shuttle.

Over 50 Cockrell School students in various engineering disciplines have contributed to the success of the LONESTAR mission during the five years it has been under development. Seven members of the TSL will attend the launch, including four students and three alumni.

Alumnus Parker Francis, who graduated with a B.S. degree in aerospace engineering from UT Austin last December, is serving as the student spacecraft manager while enrolled as a graduate student at Georgia Tech. He will be attending the launch at Cape Canaveral on Dec. 3.

“Bevo-2 is the culmination of a lot of hard work by students who have a passion for space. We are all very excited to see our engineering successes finally coming to fruition,” Francis said. “Personally, the time I put into the TSL was the most valuable time I spent as a UT student, and I know many others who feel the same way.” 

Once the satellite is launched, the TSL will operate the spacecraft through its roughly six-month mission from the ground station located in the UT Austin aerospace engineering building. Students will be responsible for sending commands to the satellite and receiving downlinked mission data. They will also analyze the data to see if the mission is successful in its attempts at the AR&D technologies.