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Communications Education Space Science

UT Student-Built Spacecraft Separate and Communicate 102

Posted by timothy
from the hook-'em-and-unhook-'em-afterwards dept.
BJ_Covert_Action writes "Some students from the Cockrell School of Engineering in Austin, Texas have built, developed, launched, and operated two historic satellites. The FASTRAC satellites make up the first small-scale satellite system which is composed of two separate spacecraft that can communicate to each other. On March 22, the single FASTRAC satellite successfully separated into two smaller spacecraft that are currently operating and communicating with each other. While separation and communication has occurred between paired satellites before, this is the first time it has been done with such a small platform (the FASTRAC spacecraft weigh approximately 60 lbs.). Furthermore, this is the first time a student-designed and built space system has been composed of two separate spacecraft that can interact with each other. One of the most impressive things about this mission is that it was done incredibly cheap, at $250,000, which is far below the costs associated with traditional spacecraft."
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UT Student-Built Spacecraft Separate and Communicate

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  • So does this mean they're downloading songs off KaZaA, Grokster, and iMesh?

  • Sure it's cheaper (Score:4, Insightful)

    by santax (1541065) on Thursday March 24, 2011 @08:26PM (#35606952)
    Now count the hours spend, add the costs of this being a project done by people are/have learned the ropes along the way of this project. Replace those factors with the hourly cost of a team of engineers and don't forget to call a insurance company for liability issues if your are offering this as a commercial service and all of a sudden we come to realize that education, labour and insurance cost more than the components your satellite + spaceship were made out of. This part wasn't exactly rocket science.
    • by tanujt (1909206)
      I suppose the point was that you don't always need Gabazillion dollars to put stuff that belongs down here, up there.
      • by santax (1541065)
        Well yes, but you don't need to spend 250.000 to come to that conclusion :D Despite me pointing this out, to be honest, I really dig this project. 2 thumbs up. Wish I had a chance to do something this cool. But, when you only count the costs of parts you are not getting the real cost. I didn't account the real profit either. Who cares about another shitty satellite in orbit. We have thousands of them and most of them are way more interesting than what these guys put up there. What is way more interesting he
        • Who cares about another shitty satellite in orbit.

          Anyone who builds satellites does. Something that a lot of folk seem to miss in the space industry is that risk is a determining factor in most spacecraft development costs. The managerial board in charge of any design will dog its engineers about how risky a particular program is. Every piece of technology that has not been tested on orbit adds a very significant amount of risk to any risk model. Essentially it adds one big, "Oh crap this has a high chance of failing," component to an otherwise proven des

    • Yeah, and it's worth noting that the *hardware* budget was $250,000. It was launched on a Minotaur IV, which costs a cool $50 million USD to purchase and launch. Their web site is far from clear, but it looks like these tiny satellites were allowed to piggyback on another launch. [spaceflightnow.com] Which is a great deal for them, since they didn't really care what orbit their satellite got put in or how many years (or months, in this case) it would stay up.

      But if I was a commercial venture, with full-sized satellites, and

    • If I was replying I would have prefixed my comments with a congratulations. I congratulate the students who have, from what I understand, no industrial experience, they are on the way to amazing and wonderful careers. I wonder if the students prepared the announcement from UT, or if they were exuberant about the success. No doubt, in the labs and classes they must have tallied all the direct and hidden, tangible and intangible, costs and services. Bravo Students.
  • Also a Ham relay (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 24, 2011 @08:31PM (#35606998)

    Both craft are also radio relays. You can talk via them if overhead. http://fastrac.ae.utexas.edu/for_radio_operators/users/phpBB3/predictedorbit.php

    FASTRAC 1 2M UP LINK / 440 DOWN LINK
    FASTRAC 2 440 UP LINK / 2M DOWN LINK
    AX-25 1200 AND 9600 BAUD

  • Lets put up 120 pound of material into orbit with no more use that to prove that they can communicate. Isn't there an issue with junk in orbit?

  • by prakslash (681585) on Thursday March 24, 2011 @09:15PM (#35607250)
    The satellites were launched by a Minotaur IV [utexas.edu] rocket from Alaska.
    These rockets are derived from converted [wikipedia.org] old Minuteman/Peacekeeper ICBMs.
    Despite that, the launch costs of such a rocket can still be $40-50 million [spaceflightnow.com]
    So, unless you can score a free ride for your doohickey, it ain't so cheap.
    • by Lazareth (1756336) on Thursday March 24, 2011 @09:35PM (#35607346)

      Exactly this. While I agree that what the students did was both an achievement and a valuable educational process, much of the cost of sending stuff into orbit is, not surprisingly, sending stuff into orbit. They got to do that for free*.

      *Hidden costs 101: get somebody else to pay for it and say you did everything amazingly cheap.

      • Hey, if NASA is going to chuck a few hundred pounds into orbit anyways, and the launcher can lift a few hundred lbs. + 200 lbs., then why not bolt on some extra science and/or tech-demo missions? Otherwise you're just wasting hardware.
        • by Lazareth (1756336)

          I agree and think it a wise gesture. I know not the margins with which such a launcher can carry "extra baggage", but by all means allow students to benefit from it and learn something in the process. It nurtures further interest which, in my mind, is the best source of learning :)

        • Of course. You can't just say afterwards that you can do it much cheaper than those overpaid NASA slobs (whose launch vehicle you just happened to ride up on).

    • I didn't RTFA (this is slashdot, after all), but for $250,000, I'm guessing that the engineering, assembly, overhead, and all other costs other than raw parts were not included. It's like watching HGTV renovate a kitchen for $4,000, and then asking if a local GC can renovate yours for the same amount.

      It's cool that they got to do it, but when the "cost" you claim is two orders of magnitude smaller than what it actually costs, and the reason is that you didn't actually account for the total costs of the miss

    • by tyldis (712367)

      'Cheap' is a matter of definition, but putting a payload into orbit has, in many cases, become cheaper than employing someone to do the equivalent job on earth. One such example is Cryosat2 which is measuring ice thickness, which was deemed cheaper than having scientists traveling around the globe and constantly measuring it 'manually'.

      I love this trend as it is providing my daily bread :)

    • by jtseng (4054)

      I imagine there were also no costs used to pay salaries since they're students and not professional engineers. (No I don't count the professors' salaries.)

  • by ikarys (865465) on Thursday March 24, 2011 @09:32PM (#35607332)
    FASTRAC 1: Hey sibling FASTRAC, anything happening over there?
    FASTRAC A: Nope - it's space fool.
    FASTRAC 1: Well, at least we have each other.
    FASTRAC A: I hate you.
  • "One of the most impressive things about this mission is that it was done incredibly cheap, at $250,000, which is far below the costs associated with traditional spacecraft."

    That's like being impressed that a moped is cheaper than Bugatti Veyron. No effing duh the moped is cheaper.

    • Yeah, but imagine an industry where just about everyone buys Bugatti Veryons regardless of whether they need them or not. Then imagine that some guy comes along and buys a moped instead, because all he needs to do is putt to work every morning, not race every hot-rodder on the road.

      The impressive thing isn't just the cost itself, but it's the demonstration that the moped can fulfill your needs at a significantly lower cost. This is an especially impressive thing when 99% of the current car buyers don't t
      • Yeah, but imagine an industry where just about everyone buys Bugatti Veryons regardless of whether they need them or not.

        Since that is an imaginary situation that bears no relation to the real world, I decline to do so.

        • ....that bears no relation to the real world

          Kinda like how your simile between the car industry and the space industry bears no relation to the real world, as they utilize completely different design cycles, program cost models, and product requirements?

          Contrary to popular Slashdot belief, car analogies don't actually produce any meaningful data for a proper analysis of a given situation. ;)

          • Kinda like how your simile between the car industry and the space industry bears no relation to the real world, as they utilize completely different design cycles, program cost models, and product requirements?

            Since I was only providing a simple example of differing levels of cost and performance, all of that is irrelevant.

            Contrary to popular Slashdot belief, car analogies don't actually produce any meaningful data for a proper analysis of a given situation.

            Yet you understood what I meant immediatel

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Especially if everyone building the moped does it for free, the gas is free, and someone tows it behind the Bugatti for free.

        While this is AWESOME, and kudos the the 150 people who put it together, the cost is stupid to compare to other satellites.
        .

  • Whenever I hear the NASA budget or the cost of commercial projects like this, I always ask myself if the people working on it are being paid way too much. I mean, real technical human labor seems to have skyrocketed in price, no pun intended.
    • I would be very surprised if cost-overruns for big projects are due to overpaid labor. The reality of it is that for missions like those designed by NASA, Ball, Lockheed, and Boeing etc. there are a lot of unknowns. Problems arise in designs that weren't accounted for at the start. That can be anything from a technician not being able to reach a particular screw hole with a screw driver to an improper thermal compound being used that fails a vacuum test and, thus, requires a tear down of an entire subassemb
  • It's amusing that THEIR satellite separated successfully, but we lost a climate change survey satellite because of some bad self-stealing stem bolts or something. Seriously?

  • But did they Stop, Collaborate, & Listen as well?
  • 150 people over 7 years who you didn't need to be pay, and they didn't pay for the launch, AND it's not a long term mission.

    It was cheaper you say? I'm shocked I tell you, simply shocked.

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