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NASA selects Tarleton for program giving students a chance to fly an experiment into space.

TSU Media Relations

A team from Tarleton State University’s Mayfield College of Engineering will participate in NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative with the opportunity to fly an experiment into space.

NASA, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Space Force partnered to select eight schools for the University Nanosatellite Program. Running May-August, the program will give students systems engineering training, preparing them to work in the space industry, while enhancing small satellite expertise among faculty at U.S. universities.

Tarleton, the only Texas university chosen, was one of 21 schools that applied for this year’s UNP Mission Concepts-1 Summer Series. NASA, Air Force and contractor personnel reviewed the proposals.

After spending a month in New Mexico and a weekend in NASA Kennedy Space Center, students in the program will return to their universities the following month for workshops and exercises. Experts on small satellites will offer feedback on improving proposals and increasing those teams’ potential of being chosen to fly a real-world mission. CSLI and UNP will make their selections for future flights in 2024.

Final presentations will take place in Albuquerque late in the summer. The Tarleton team plans to attend the Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah this fall

“This grant reflects the importance for the Department of Defense to educate the next generation of small satellite systems engineers,” said Dr. Rafael Landaeta, dean of the College of Engineering. “They are seeking to develop engineers that understand the whole process of defining a mission and running a mission successfully.”

NASA also wants each participating team to propose an experiment related to a specific problem.

Tarleton’s team proposes an experiment centered on space debris. With software used in small satellites, cameras look at the stars to instruct the navigation system to move. Problem is, the reflection from space debris appears as stars to the cameras.

“Problems get worse when two spacecraft detach from one another,” Dr. Landaeta said. “It creates a push of gases, and the amount of debris is problematic for the navigation system.”

The Tarleton team proposes a cube satellite with three cameras using artificial intelligence to recognize space debris and learn the difference between debris and stars. A second objective is to catalog debris near the cube sat, adding to the accuracy of information provided to NASA.

The two objectives are just part of the criteria for acceptance to actually fly a mission.

The program has already benefited an estimated 5,000 students nationwide.

Giving Tarleton a leg up in the competition is the fact that two members have ties to NASA — an adjunct professor who retired from NASA and spent more than two decades with small satellites, and an external advisor, currently an engineer at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.


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