AE Professor, Brian Gunter: Hitching a Ride with Google, Skybox
|This schematic of the Ranging And Nanosatellite Guidance Experiment (RANGE) has been inspiring Dr. Brian Gunter's 23-member research and design team to work hard to meet a projected 2016 launch. Undergraduates and graduates are working on this project.|
|Dr. Brian Gunter|
When the opportunity to launch is offered, you have to be ready to act. Just ask GT-AE professor Brian Gunter.
Just a few months ago, in May, his Ranging And Nanosatellite Guidance Experiment (RANGE) cubesat proposal was approved through the Skybox University Cubesat Partnership. Now, it's in the design stages.
"The current schedule requires that the RANGE satellites be flight-ready by 2016," said Gunter. "That means we'll have just one year to go from concept to launch."
Can it be done?
"Yes, but it will no doubt be challenging," says Gunter.
"We are already deep into the design phase, and we will start assembly and testing in the spring. We have a talented group of students working hard to make sure we meet our deadlines."
The RANGE mission will consist of two cubesats, measuring 10x10x15 cm, that will fly in a leader-follower formation. The on-board instrumentation will include state-of-the-art global positioning system (GPS) receivers, linked to miniaturized atomic clocks, for precise orbit determination. The relative positions of the satellites will be measured using a compact inter-satellite laser ranging system that will also double as a laser communications system. Corner cube reflectors will allow the absolute and relative position estimates to be verified using ground-based satellite laser ranging (SLR) measurements provided by the International Laser Ranging Service (ILRS).
"Our goal is to have at least one set of coincident ground-based satellite laser ranging, high-rate GPS, and inter-satellite laser ranging measurements," said Gunter.
"If we can achieve that, even if this happens within the first week of operations, then we will consider the mission a success."
The mission seeks to validate technology that, among other things, has the potential to both track cubesat orbits down to mere centimeters, and to measure the relative distance between the satellites down to millimeters, Gunter said.
"We believe the results from this mission will push the limits of positioning accuracy for cubesats, and has to potential to enable a host of new mission concepts that can change how we gather information from space, to include imagery, topography, time-variable gravity, and much more," Gunter pointed out.
"In the future, we could deploy tens or hundreds of these satellites around Earth or other planets to create orbiting sensor networks that could gather near real-time global observations, and have the satellites be able to communicate with each other."
Gunter intends for the RANGE mission to serve primarily as a demonstration of new technologies, and he is already eying follow-up research projects after RANGE's launch.
"We’re grateful for getting a launch slot, since these are hard to get, and it’s exciting to think that what we’re developing will soon fly in space."
In addition to a team of 23 undergraduate and graduate researchers, Gunter will collaborate with GT-AE professors Robert Braun and Glenn Lightsey, as well as GTRI's Grady Tuell and his research group.
|The RANGE Team has been working steadily over the summer and fall to design and build the nanosatellite for a 2016 launch.|