AggieSat1’s mission was to operationally test a responsive space platform and characterize three technology experiments: a simple microsatellite propulsion system using water as the propellant, a versatile miniature positioning mechanism using a reusable shape memory alloy as the actuator, and an enzymatic energy source using glucose as the fuel. These experiments were accommodated in a versatile and responsive platform that served as a prototype for future architectures and methods aimed at streamlining the space launch and operations process.
AggieSat1 was Texas A&M University’s first satellite developed through the AggieSat Lab. As part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Nanosat-4 competition, students were required to design, construct, and test an operable space system that was judged against ten other university built satellites from around the country. The competition was co-sponsored by of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Throughout the design process, students were given the opportunity to learn and apply industry practices in a variety of engineering aspects as they were in control of selecting their mission and bringing it to fruition.
Three experiments were designed for integration on AggieSat1. The first of these experiments was a Free-Molecule Micro-Resistojet propulsion system. This safe alternative to current micro propulsion systems used water vapor as opposed to hazardous alternatives for small-scale maneuvering in space. Developed at the University of Southern California, FMMR was designed to change an orbiting space-craft’s spin rate in order to calculate the exact thrust produced. These forces were expected to be in the milliNewton range and have many applications for future small satellite missions in the future. The second experiment on-board AggieSat1 was designed to test the applicability of shape memory alloys in miniature mechanisms for small satellites. As compared to most conventional satellite mechanisms, SMAs are very mass efficient and draw little power during operation. In addition, these alloys lack the complexity of most mechanisms and this makes them ideal for replacing the high cost commercially available mechanisms. The final payload for AggieSat1 was an enzymatic based biofuel cell developed at the University of California Los Angeles. Biofuel cells are capable of using benign compounds as fuels to create electrical energy for a variety of applications. The AggieSat1 BFC used glucose and dissolved oxygen as its fuels. In the future, BFCs such as AggieSat1’s could be used to power medical sensors able to monitor the vital signs of astronauts while in space. The research being conducted on AggieSat1 will carried on with future AggieSat Lab missions.
AggieSat1 accommodated its experiments in a versatile and responsive platform that served as a prototype for future architectures. This process, known as a Responsive Space Mission, was the central focus of AggieSat1’s design. By creating three standard envelope sizes, experiments of all types could be flown within the same flight package. AggieSat1 was designed to include external allowances for systems requiring access to space environments. With the implementation of RSM, the building process for small satellites could be streamlined by using pre-built and pre-tested modules. Subsystems could be rapidly integrated and tested prior to launch vehicle attachment while the whole space-system development process could be optimized for cost and time.
The team involved with AggieSat1 was comprised of students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Engineering students from all majors joined together with students from computer science and other technical degree programs to formulate and carry out the AggieSat1 mission. Students also had the unique opportunity to integrate with business students as they worked closely with each other throughout the project to spread awareness of AggieSat Lab around the local campus and across the country. The business students also became heavily involved in the AggieSat1 mission and learned hands-on engineering skills from their peers. This duel engineering/business experience helped produce well-rounded students during the course of the Nanosat-4 competition.
Though AggieSat1 was not selected by the Air Force, the project was considered a success for the Lab as many of the learning experiences and work were carried over to later missions. Many of the students involved with AggieSat1 have remained a part of the organization as it has begun moving on to its next two missions. The skills gained from these early experiences have helped prepare the students for success on future projects.