Written by Professor Glenn Lightsey

FASTRAC has won the University Nanosatellite-3 Competition and the University of Texas at Austin's student built satellite is going to be launched into space!

On Sunday January 9, 2005, in Reno, Nevada, engineering students from UT-Austin presented their mission design and hand-built satellites to a panel of judges in a nationwide competition. The contest was sponsored by the US Air Force and NASA to pick a student built satellite to be launched into space. A field of 13 Universities had previously been selected as finalists in 2003 and had worked on their satellites for the past two years. The Universities were free to propose any mission, but the competition rules stipulated that the satellites must weigh less than 30 kilograms (about 70 pounds) and cost less than $100,000.

UT-Austin's entry, the Formation Autonomy Spacecraft with Thrust, Relnav, Attitude, and Crosslink (FASTRAC) is actually a pair of satellites designed to demonstrate new technologies that enable spacecraft to work together in groups. It is believed that once these new technologies are mature, clusters of smaller satellites will outperform the larger and more expensive individual satellites that are used for many tasks today.

With the entire team working over the holidays, the UT-Austin team was able to deliver all of the hardware in working order at the Flight Competition Review held in Reno, Nevada. This remarkable accomplishment, along with the results from an extensive series of environmental tests, enabled FASTRAC to win against a strong field of worthy designs from other Universities. All of the judges remarked that they were highly impressed with the overall quality of the field.

As the UN-3 winner, the FASTRAC program enters a new phase as it prepares for flight. The existing hardware will be refurbished and selected components will be replaced with better flight quality parts. The next major milestone is delivery of a complete set of hardware to the Air Force on May 15 for a battery of flight qualification tests to be performed over the summer. FASTRAC will probably be launched into space in 2006, making it the first-ever UT-Austin built satellite to be launched into orbit.

Congratulations to the FASTRAC student team on their well-deserved victory!