|Bevo-2 Satellite: Behind the Scenes in the Satellite Design Lab|
A team of undergraduate and graduate students have worked collaboratively this summer to build a satellite so small it can be held in your hand, yet so powerful it will be deployed into space next year. The Bevo-2 Satellite is the result of countless hours designing, building and testing in the UT Satellite Design Lab.
Bevo-2 is the second of a series of missions that were initiated in 2006 by Professor Robert Bishop, and made possible from support provided by NASA Johnson Space Center. The mission involves two university satellite teams – The University of Texas and its longtime neighbor, Texas A&M. Both schools receive support from NASA-JSC for the designing, building and testing phases as well as the most exciting phase – the space launch. The final goal of the program is for the two satellites to be launched into space, individually rendezvous with each other, and perform docking and undocking maneuvers.
Our students who have worked on building the satellite have gained a unique learning experience.
“I see a lot of interesting topics in classes,” graduate student Travis Imken said. "But it’s all about the theory and homework problems. In the lab, we get to come in and play with hardware. In two years, we’ll get to see the satellite go from project conception to final delivery. It’s great to do the hands on engineering yourself and see it turn into something real. It’s not until we put it together that we really see how a satellite works.”
For Imken, the Satellite Design Lab was the most significant factor that contributed to his decision to stay at UT for graduate school.
“I had four years of research experience in the lab as an undergraduate so when I started applying to graduate schools, I had a very specific research interest in small satellites,” Imken said. “I looked at other graduate schools and realized I really love what we have here. I didn’t just stay because it’s comfortable. I stayed because I love what we do here.”
According to Professor Glenn Lightsey, director of the Satellite Design Lab, one of the best things about the lab is how undergraduate and graduate students work side by side. For mechanical engineering junior Juan Ruiz, the guidance and mentorship he has received in the lab over the last two and a half years has made him return to his dream of becoming an astronaut.
“It’s amazing to be working on a project that’s going into space,” Ruiz said. “I grew up loving NASA and the whole space program, but it was always a farfetched dream – something only the best and brightest do. In junior high and high school, I tried finding something more practical to pursue. Working in this lab has rekindled that dream. One of our former students, Andrew Mogenson (PhD ASE ’07), recently became an astronaut for the European Space Agency. Though it felt like an intangible dream, this lab has made me realize that it is accomplishable.”
In addition to mentorship and guidance, student veterans have anchored the team on this satellite project.
“Based on prior projects in the Satellite Lab, we now have some veterans on the team who have made previous space vehicles,” Lightsey said. “They can share their experiences with the people who are learning the ropes: how they built it, what worked well and what we can do better. It’s wonderful having the spectrum of students with knowledge. It’s a new range of experience that we have in the lab.”
The students will finish building the satellite this fall. In addition to finalizing documentation and setting up the ground station, they will be conducting environmental testing using a vacuum chamber and checking the vehicle’s ability to withstand the vibrations of launching using a shaker table. The team will deliver Bevo-2 to NASA by the end of the calendar year so it can be integrated into Texas A&M’s satellite, AggieSat 4.
Bevo-2 will then be deployed in orbit from a launcher located inside AggieSat 4. The satellites are currently manifested on a SpaceX Falcon 9 resupply mission to the International Space Station in the summer of 2013 and will be unloaded by the ISS astronauts. AggieSat 4, with Bevo-2 inside, will be deployed from the Japanese Experiment Module exterior platform. After deployment, Bevo-2 will be ejected from the Texas A&M satellite and the two spacecraft will conduct imaging, communication and relative navigation tests before they drift apart.
“This whole experience is very exciting,” Lightsey said. “It’s great to have a research program where our students can build satellites that fly in space.”