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Surrey-Backed CU Research Team Making TRACS!

On December 4th, SST-US attended the Critical Design Review (CDR) for the University of Colorado (CU) Aerospace Department’s TRACSat student team.

Sponsored by SST-US, TRACSat (Target Recognition and Acquisition CubeSat) is a research project created to span multiple academic years and student teams. The project debuted this academic year and is one of eight aerospace senior design projects taking place at CU during the 2012-13 school year. The project’s ultimate goal is to produce a CubeSat-sized working spacecraft engineering model that can demonstrate the proximity operations capability necessary for STRaND-2- Surrey Satellite’s internal project that will test a novel in-orbit docking system in space.
The TRACSat team with SST-US staff members
For spacecraft to maneuver in space without risk of collision, the propellant must be precisely controlled based upon finely tuned algorithms that read attitude information from onboard sensors. The three-dimensional docking of CubeSats in space means doing all of this- but within challenging cost, volume, and power limitations.

SST-US’s interest in proximity operations fostered an idea for a project that involved designing and evaluating a CubeSat-sized propulsion system. SST-US, as the “customer,” tasked the TRACSat Team with developing a working prototype to demonstrate the translation, rotation, and station-keeping capability of a CubeSat on an air table using cold gas thrusters under closed loop control.  The eight-strong team are gaining valuable hands-on experience in the project management, system engineering, and test of the spacecraft.

The team presented their activities to the department’s Project Advisory Board (PAB), other senior aerospace students, and SST-US. Since the last review, the team have been evaluating the feasibility of high-risk items, such as the propulsion/electrical/mechanical layout, the power budget, and testing of the absolute position and orientation sensing system. The tests included the calibration of an infrared camera from a Wii™ remote to check the field of view and position accuracy.

The PAB was very impressed with the TRACSat team. In particular, they deemed the team’s performance modeling “outstanding” and were impressed with their ability to verify requirements and analysis through future testing. Other highlights included the team’s description of the software development and their ability to relate the software directly to the system implementation.

Having passed their CDR, the TRACSat team can now focus on prototype demonstration- writing the software, ordering components, manufacturing the test structure, and integrating the system. Once the test model is built, one of the key tests identified will be a static test firing of the valves and thrusters.

SST-US is proud to support such a motivated and dedicated group of students. We look forward to seeing their continued progress in the New Year!


13 December 20120 Comments1 Comment

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