Georgia Tech

'Tiny but mighty' cubesat packs a punch

Professor Glenn Lightsey is giving his Georgia Tech students a unique education as they prepare their cubesat, GT-1, for launch. Spaceflight will be taking the payload to space as part of the MDS-1 mission in December 2021, its first mission with Mitsui Deployment Service (MDS), with spacecraft deploying from the International Space Station (ISS) via Japanese Exploration Module (JEM), Kibo.

The Payload

This 1U spacecraft itself is a small wonder of economy, packing a huge punch as far as increasing access to space and what can be done with such a small package. Its goal is to show how cubesats can act as a tiny tug to deliver more payloads to space. “The 1U form factor is tough to work with because of its limited power, but it is so accessible. You can scale it up quickly, and see what is possible,” says Professor Lightsey.

Time-to-launch was a critical aspect for the university team. “We wanted to shorten the life cycle of launch,” says Lightsey. “In the past, it has taken many years to get a spacecraft launched, and that doesn’t work for students. They graduate and move on. Part of our goal was to shorten an entire mission to less than two years end-to-end.”

Working with Spaceflight to provide launch and mission management services helped them cut down the traditional time to launch. This in turn gave Maximilian Kolhof, a student with a lead role in the project, an opportunity to do more with this — and future missions.

“For our first spacecraft, GT-1, we developed prototype deployable solar panels that double the surface area for energy collection,” says Kolhof. “We have also put a UHF antenna deployer inside the satellite that only takes up a small footprint. With three more satellites planned, we will be able to put more and more interesting payloads on future missions that further our research goals.” The team also developed an amateur radio payload which will allow operators around the world to communicate with the satellite. And with the shortened timeline to launch, the students who worked on this project will see it come to fruition.

The Launch and Deployment 

Even with Spaceflight’s years of experience launching spacecraft, this mission checks several “firsts” boxes.

  • To start, Georgia Tech and Spaceflight partnered with Mitsui Bussan Aerospace to gain review and approval for flight of GT-1 by JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency.
  • Then Mitsui helped Spaceflight and Georgia Tech arrange for the shipment of the spacecraft to Japan for integration.
  • Once in Japan at the JAXA facility, the GT-1 spacecraft was loaded with two other 1U spacecraft into a JAXA deployment container.
  • The container was then shipped to the SpaceX launch facility at Cape Canaveral Florida where it will be loaded onto the Cargo Dragon for CRS-24, as part of an ISS resupply mission. Launch is targeted for early December 2021.
  • Once aboard the ISS, the astronauts will load the deployer into the Japanese Exploration Module (JEM). The satellites will be deployed using a robotic arm on the ISS (image below).

A tremendous journey for the smallsat from Georgia!

Working with Spaceflight gave Professor Lightsey and his students a unique, close-up view into the launch process that is often not possible when doing typical university launches through government entities. “With government launches, you lose visibility into the process. We have had really good, transparent communications working with our Spaceflight mission manager throughout the entire process,” said Lightsey. “Spaceflight isn’t just our business partner on launch, but they’re mentors for our students.”

And that hands-on experience has been invaluable for the students. “As students, It was great to have another set of eyes on all our paperwork, from someone with experience,” added Kolhof. “Our mission manager made sure things were in order before paperwork was sent on, which not only gave us confidence, but also kept us on schedule because less was kicked back for us to edit or update.”

Spaceflight is proud to help Georgia Tech’s satellite to orbit, and we’re inspired by the students who will be pushing the boundaries of launch technology in years to come.


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