In the past, enormous and expensive rockets carried satellites weighing one to five
tons into orbit around the earth. These enormous satellites cost a fortune to build,
even more to launch, and still more to cover the insurance premiums. Over the last
decade, smaller satellites have reduced the launch costs associated with satellites.
Major advances in microelectronics, in particular microprocessors, are making smaller
satellites a viable alternative. These pico/nano-satellites provide cost-effective
solutions to traditional problems, especially when grouped in networks and constellations,
and are viable development platforms for testing new technologies in the space environment.
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Space Florida has partnered with the University of Florida and
other state universities to form the ASTREC program (Advanced Space Technologies Research
& Engineering Center), a cooperative to develop solutions for the growing
small satellite industry in Florida and beyond.
Precision Attitude Determination and Control System for Small Satellites
Space Florida recently funded research into small satellite control systems
and their development at a Small Satellite Lab at the University of Florida (UF)
that includes a High Bay Facility, Avionics area and has a Class 100 Clean Room.
Professors Stephen Eikenberry and Norman Fitz-Coy are directing this research, with
the intention to develop innovative control systems for small satellites in space,
which in time can be used by federal, military and commercials entities. Usages
may include surveillance, weather monitoring and communications. With the relatively
lower cost of small satellites being a motivating force in their development, the
University of Florida team has achieved some unique ‘firsts’ in the
development of ‘three-axis attitude control’ units, which will provide
these satellites with rapid targeting and precision pointing mechanisms. The research
into Attitude Control Systems continues at the University, and a prototype was demonstrated
in Orlandorecently at an ASTREC (Advanced Space Technologies Research
& Engineering Center) meeting.
Meanwhile, operations of the L3CCD (Low Light Level) Camera in the UF Small Satellite
Lab have been completed. Detailed characterization of the device is underway and
on schedule. Bio/Medical applications of this camera lens include cardiac imaging,
neural imaging, and other bio-fluorescence applications. Since completing the design,
mechanical drawings of the specialized components have been generated and sent to
the UF machine shop.
Meanwhile efforts to commercialize the device have begun. Several companies, including
Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Air Force Research Labs, and the Department of the Army,
have expressed a positive interest in this Space Florida-supported technology. The
NASA and FTS Moog have offered opportunities for a flight demonstration of the device.