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UT Student-Built Spacecraft Separate and Communicate

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the hook-'em-and-unhook-'em-afterwards dept.

Communications 102

BJ_Covert_Action writes "Some students from the Cockrell School of Engineering in Austin, Texas have built, developed, launched, and operated two historic satellites. The FASTRAC satellites make up the first small-scale satellite system which is composed of two separate spacecraft that can communicate to each other. On March 22, the single FASTRAC satellite successfully separated into two smaller spacecraft that are currently operating and communicating with each other. While separation and communication has occurred between paired satellites before, this is the first time it has been done with such a small platform (the FASTRAC spacecraft weigh approximately 60 lbs.). Furthermore, this is the first time a student-designed and built space system has been composed of two separate spacecraft that can interact with each other. One of the most impressive things about this mission is that it was done incredibly cheap, at $250,000, which is far below the costs associated with traditional spacecraft."

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FastTrack? (1)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35606788)

So does this mean they're downloading songs off KaZaA, Grokster, and iMesh?

Re:FastTrack? (0)

nthwaver (1019400) | more than 3 years ago | (#35606818)

No, it means they get a toll discount on the Bay Bridge.

Track it! (-1, Troll)

slashcomma5 (2025468) | more than 3 years ago | (#35606838)

Here [blog.com] you can see the orbits of these spacecrafts. For such small amount of money, pretty nice achievement.

Re:Track it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35606872)

wow...it's orbiting Uranus

Re:Track it! (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#35606914)

wow...it's orbiting Uranus

Your mom is orbiting my... wait, I can't tell if I'm doing this joke properly or not.

Re:Track it! (1)

lennier1 (264730) | more than 3 years ago | (#35606938)

Just another extraterrestrial anal probe.

Re:Track it! (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35606900)

They're orbiting uranus! This is surely Obama's Sputnik moment.

Re:Track it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35606906)

Looks like they got sucked into a black hole.

Re:Track it! (1)

Jasoman (1974176) | more than 3 years ago | (#35606928)

obvious troll is obvious.

Re:Track it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35606944)

Its a trap! No really, it is.

Re:Track it! (1)

Audguy (736134) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607006)

IT'S A TRAP! damn goatse pic!

Re:Track it! (1)

kdemetter (965669) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608406)

I never thought i'd say this the first time i saw it , but after some time , you do get used to goatse.
It's only mildly disgusting to me now.

Re:Track it! (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 2 years ago | (#35612644)

I never thought i'd say this the first time i saw it , but after some time , you do get used to goatse. It's only mildly disgusting to me now.

You're on a slippery slope...as it were.

Incredibly cheap at 250,000 (-1, Troll)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35606926)

What an amazing concept than a quarter of a million dollars is cheap..

Life must be so nice in your world...

Re:Incredibly cheap at 250,000 (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35606974)

You obviously have no clue what it takes to design, build, launch and operate a successful system in space. $250,000 is downright highway robbery when large-scale systems can easily move into 10-digit figures. So, yes. $250,000 is very cheap. YOU'RE IN F'ING SPACE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

Re:Incredibly cheap at 250,000 (1)

ocdscouter (1922930) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607008)

Put more gently, it's "cheap" in this context.

[But be sure to avoid the ugly connotations of "from a Certain Point of View(TM)".]

considering one epsiode of Law and Order is (2)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607164)

one million american dollars, yeah it is kind of cheap.

There is a great book about the Soviet side of the early space days. One of their test V7 rockets blew up, the chief designer and his friend were almost crying about the massive amount of money they had just wasted, enough to support whole villages several times over.

When Sputnik launched, it captured the human imagination so powerfully that even the communist apparatchiks of Kruschev's regime had to pay respect to Korolev, and even the children of the imperialists were out in their backyards tuning their radios to the transmissions of the godless communist enemy. The man Korolev, though they would not know the man's name for another couple dozens years, as he was kept a secret so the CIA would not assassinate him, and his team, inspired the whole world.

And now, this feat costs $250,000... less than the price of a fighter jet, or a hollywood movie, or a TV show episode, and it can be done by civilians. It is truly remarkable, and a great story for slashdot.

IMHO

Re:considering one epsiode of Law and Order is (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607212)

I didn't RTFA but I'm sure $250KUS got them a satellite. They usually hitch a ride on somebody else's launch.

oh oops (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608588)

i thought they had a rocket for $250k. lols.

Re:oh oops (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 2 years ago | (#35612724)

i thought they had a rocket for $250k. lols.

Now that really would have been a story.

Re:considering one epsiode of Law and Order is (1)

webmistressrachel (903577) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607322)

"kept a secret so the CIA would not assassinate him"

The CIA must have been completely hopeless at the time if they couldn't simply plant operatives, get (physically) close to the space program launch site which was in present-day Kazakstan, suss out who was giving orders (Sergev), and snipe him.

Additionally, I don't think that's the reason at all. The intention was probably more idealogical than security related, implying to the world that communism itself, collective effort and group planning, made this possible rather than the ideas and ambitions of one (quite priveleged) man.

An advert for communism, if you will.

Re:considering one epsiode of Law and Order is (2)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607838)

Actually, some of security measures were designed to prevent just that (or stealing the documentation that was shared with ICBM development, or obtaining the maps of the launch site -- remember, it was the first satellite, so no one had satellite photos yet).

Re:considering one epsiode of Law and Order is (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608582)

all i know is what i read in the books

Re:considering one epsiode of Law and Order is (2)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607822)

Sputnik itself was just a simple sealed, battery-powered radio beacon. The hard part was to launch it in orbit.

This thing is much more complex than Sputnik, but it had to be launched on someone else's rocket, so it does not reproduce the part that is actually impressive. The success in building something that can be launched into an orbit and do something useful there (even if it is just relaying radio signals) is valuable, however this is not anywhere close to the amount of engineering that goes into a satellite launch -- in Sputnik time or now.

oh i thought they got the rocket for 250k too (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608570)

my bad

Re:Incredibly cheap at 250,000 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607044)

Life must be so simple in your world, where nothing exists beyond the atmosphere...

Re:Incredibly cheap at 250,000 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607566)

Well, actually, it is pretty much nothing. Life must be wonderful in your world, where there's candy, cake, and gold bullion beyond our atmosphere? Hell, even WITHIN our atmosphere, things get deadly real quick. Just what magical properties do you think the vacuum has?

Skynet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35606948)

I for one welcome our new satellite overlords!

Sure it's cheaper (3, Insightful)

santax (1541065) | more than 3 years ago | (#35606952)

Now count the hours spend, add the costs of this being a project done by people are/have learned the ropes along the way of this project. Replace those factors with the hourly cost of a team of engineers and don't forget to call a insurance company for liability issues if your are offering this as a commercial service and all of a sudden we come to realize that education, labour and insurance cost more than the components your satellite + spaceship were made out of. This part wasn't exactly rocket science.

Re:Sure it's cheaper (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607034)

This is what I was thinking. It is more amazing the students had a $250k budget to work with.

Re:Sure it's cheaper (1)

tanujt (1909206) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607198)

I suppose the point was that you don't always need Gabazillion dollars to put stuff that belongs down here, up there.

Re:Sure it's cheaper (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607264)

That sounds like a compelling argument for science based space missions being conducted by university students.

Hell, so we don't have to endure the costs of newbie fuckups while subsidizing their education, we'll retain the good ones as government employees rather than having them enter the private sector.

We'll call it NASA.

Re:Sure it's cheaper (1)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607368)

Yes, and now you know how the national scientific system works. This is exactly how we do things in all fields of physics now.

Re:Sure it's cheaper (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608290)

Except NASA isn't free...

Re:Sure it's cheaper (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35614390)

It's not free, but it's damn close. NASA is little more than a rounding error in the US defense budget.

Re:Sure it's cheaper (1)

santax (1541065) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607320)

Well yes, but you don't need to spend 250.000 to come to that conclusion :D Despite me pointing this out, to be honest, I really dig this project. 2 thumbs up. Wish I had a chance to do something this cool. But, when you only count the costs of parts you are not getting the real cost. I didn't account the real profit either. Who cares about another shitty satellite in orbit. We have thousands of them and most of them are way more interesting than what these guys put up there. What is way more interesting here in terms of profit is that we have a couple of young people, call em kids, that have hands on knowledge on designing and building spacecraft. That is profit. In the future they will be building... well... multi million/billion spacecraft for some really cool company that's will make sure every last penning of profit will be attained ;) Sweet irony. But still, awesome project with good results.

Re:Sure it's cheaper (2)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608216)

Who cares about another shitty satellite in orbit.

Anyone who builds satellites does. Something that a lot of folk seem to miss in the space industry is that risk is a determining factor in most spacecraft development costs. The managerial board in charge of any design will dog its engineers about how risky a particular program is. Every piece of technology that has not been tested on orbit adds a very significant amount of risk to any risk model. Essentially it adds one big, "Oh crap this has a high chance of failing," component to an otherwise proven design.

Thus, in order for the spacecraft industry to progress, some entity needs to take on high-risk test missions. These missions are known as tech-demonstrators. Essentially, their sole purpose is to put something in the space environment that has never been done before just to show that it will perform on-orbit the same as it did in a lab on the ground. The problem is, there is almost no profit in the very small tech-demo missions. Thus, the large companies often have to gloss over new, but small leaps in technology in favor of 30 year old proven designs.

A mission like this is far beyond just another "shitty satellite." While I didn't work on this mission, I can promise you that there are coding techniques, chips, and control devices on these spacecraft that have never been flown before. I can guarantee that because a mission of this nature, on this scale, has never been flown before. So its overall design is going to be incredibly unique. As a result of this project, however, commercial companies will now start looking into adopting micro-scale satellite networks as a viable solution to many problems that customers want to solve since the concept, and at least one design, has been shown to work. Hell, right now there is a Canadian company that is trying to put together a a network of 78 nanosats [commstellation.com] to solve a real world problem. I'd bet my bollocks to a barn dance that company (MSCI) is watching this mission intently, and they may very well be in communication with the UT students who are working on FASTRAC in an attempt to reduce their own R&D costs.

That's a lot of real-world progress that comes from just another shitty satellite in space. Don't rain down on small, incremental progress. It pays off in leaps and bounds with patience.

Re:Sure it's cheaper (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35608648)

A mission like this is far beyond just another "shitty satellite." While I didn't work on this mission, I can promise you that there are coding techniques, chips, and control devices on these spacecraft that have never been flown before. I can guarantee that because a mission of this nature, on this scale, has never been flown before.

TFS implies it has been done.

Re:Sure it's cheaper (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35608056)

Actually, that's not the point. They hitched a free ride on a launch that probably cost millions of dollars.

I can do it cheaper! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607306)

All I'd have to do is hire a bunch of engineers from a Third World country that went to school in the States on their government's dime and Voila! I have a Space Team!

Yours,

American Educated MBA.

Don-tcha luv this downward spiral!

For satire impaired: I meant every goddamn word.

Re:Sure it's cheaper (1)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607486)

Yeah, and it's worth noting that the *hardware* budget was $250,000. It was launched on a Minotaur IV, which costs a cool $50 million USD to purchase and launch. Their web site is far from clear, but it looks like these tiny satellites were allowed to piggyback on another launch. [spaceflightnow.com] Which is a great deal for them, since they didn't really care what orbit their satellite got put in or how many years (or months, in this case) it would stay up.

But if I was a commercial venture, with full-sized satellites, and I had to spend $10 million+++ to buy my own launches, I'd make damn sure my satellites are top quality.

Re:Sure it's cheaper (1)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607738)

Sorry, don't mod me up... I'd been away for a while before I hit submit, and I didn't notice that someone else had posted the same thing [slashdot.org] later in the thread.

That's awesome. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35606990)

I knew Wallace Fowler would be involved in this... he was my thesis advisor at UT many moons ago. A great engineer, great teacher, and a great inspiration for several generations of aerospace engineers. And a hell of a guy.

Well done indeed.

Also a Ham relay (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35606998)

Both craft are also radio relays. You can talk via them if overhead. http://fastrac.ae.utexas.edu/for_radio_operators/users/phpBB3/predictedorbit.php

FASTRAC 1 2M UP LINK / 440 DOWN LINK
FASTRAC 2 440 UP LINK / 2M DOWN LINK
AX-25 1200 AND 9600 BAUD

Re:Also a Ham relay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607484)

Tnx. See you there. 73

Re:Also a Ham relay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607498)

Tnx. See you there 73

taking off without being grounded first (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607068)

as we're not sure who, where, we are (eve may have been promiscuous?), what time it really is, or what's really happened so far. so we launch ourselves without much (facts) to go on.

most all future travel will be based on magnetic power sources that are available to some, now.

we'll all be using it after the big flash, & already happening fleedom of unprecedented evile et al (which includes some religious trainings/rituals that include real sex/death etc..), & it's members of our population, which is very very small #, & will not be missed.

weird looking star by little dipper? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607154)

to the left, from the north view. looks like a big star, with a small star glued to it. we rarely get to see the night sky lately because of all the fake clouds that make it be 0 out when it's really more like 35. please don't mention mars or venus, unless they are visibly falling apart, or stuck together. maybe the students could help/go there?

Re:weird looking star by little dipper? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607218)

Have captchas been broken so much that even script kiddies are in on the act or are the Parent and GP just off their medicine?

Re:weird looking star by little dipper? (1)

webmistressrachel (903577) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607360)

I don't have a clue, I noticed this phenomenon recently, and nobody can explain it.

Can bots really post to slashdot? Maybe a user creates an account, then gives each bot a un and pw. The bot parses the form /. offers then submits the random values, remembering to select the check-box closest to the AC box.

No, I didn't write the damn thing, I hated it when I first saw it but I got to thinking whether it was person or not. I saw your comment and realised that broken CAPTCHAs were less likely than the solution above. It only seems to appear a few times at most on each article, so it's possible some very bored pest could do it alone, or a bot which waits for the next article or number of comments could do it.

In fact, I suspect two accounts and two bots are involved, because one always replies to the other (at least recently)

Re:weird looking star by little dipper? (1)

jackbird (721605) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607502)

Perhaps this is a coded/steganographic communication intended to be lost in the noise?

Re:weird looking star by little dipper? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607544)

Perhaps this is a coded/steganographic communication intended to be lost in the noise?

I've always thought it was steganography. There's always been at least one of these operating at any one time, although the text database/vocabulary changes every few years. I'm just too damn lazy to write a script to iterate through the last few years of /. articles, diff the things to strip out the common copy/paste boilerplate, much (but not all!) of which is identical from posting to posting, and see what pops out.

The question isn't "how random is it", but "how random should it be?" (If it's merely "Englishly-"nonrandom, it's just some kook. If it's interestingly-nonrandom, it's something encoded steganographically, but someone smart enough and persistent enough to do this would know that. If it's really random, that's also a red flag - someone encrypted a file with an OTP and passed that through a steganographic algorithm. It's the middle ground where it's hard to tell whether it's stego or schizo :)

If anyone reads this who works at Google or even Not Specifically Anywhere, it'd be a great 20% project.

Re:weird looking star by little dipper? (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607548)

Mental illness much more likely cause. Like the GP said off their meds.

Re:weird looking star by little dipper? (1)

jackbird (721605) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607612)

It's the reply that's making me think there's something more. Also, I haven't seen many schitzophrenic screeds that short.

Space Trash (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607096)

Lets put up 120 pound of material into orbit with no more use that to prove that they can communicate. Isn't there an issue with junk in orbit?

Re:Space Trash (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607220)

I'm pretty sure this project is in a low, decaying orbit, so no trash.

Re:Space Trash (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607622)

According to the article http://fastrac.ae.utexas.edu/our_satellites/operation.php [utexas.edu] it orbits at 650KM. That is higher than the Hubble which is at 595Km. Maybe you should check your figures before posting.

Re:Space Trash (2)

John Meacham (1112) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608356)

Yes, and the hubble is also in low earth orbit and will decay. That is why they have to periodically boost it with a space shuttle if they want it to stay there.

Re:Space Trash (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 2 years ago | (#35609620)

Thanks for missing the point. The useless satellites are in orbit with high value assets. As they decay they become projectiles that could harm other satellites. Just being up there they take up area that could be used by something useful. They are small but there is a minimum separation for objects in orbit. If they get knocked that become more dangerous as they can not correct themselves. (They have thrusters but they only produce micro newtons of power)

Had they been in a very low orbit, say 300Kms, which is below valuable satellite orbits and would decay quickly I would see not issue. It goes up; they do the experiment; it comes down and burn up; no problem. Now It will be up there for years if not decades and is a danger to valuable satellites s it comes down. Why did they have to put it so high? This is a great example of doing something because we can and not because we should.

Re:Space Trash (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35612800)

Why did they have to put it so high?

They piggy backed on another launch vehicle.

Re:Space Trash (1)

Stupendoussteve (891822) | more than 2 years ago | (#35617378)

After the experiment they are to be used for APRS, it's meant to be up there for a while.

Re:Space Trash (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607230)

Haters gonna hate.

UT is awsome. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607244)

BOOM!! HEAD SHOT!

It is the launch costs that kills you (5, Insightful)

prakslash (681585) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607250)

The satellites were launched by a Minotaur IV [utexas.edu] rocket from Alaska.
These rockets are derived from converted [wikipedia.org] old Minuteman/Peacekeeper ICBMs.
Despite that, the launch costs of such a rocket can still be $40-50 million [spaceflightnow.com]
So, unless you can score a free ride for your doohickey, it ain't so cheap.

Re:It is the launch costs that kills you (4, Insightful)

Lazareth (1756336) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607346)

Exactly this. While I agree that what the students did was both an achievement and a valuable educational process, much of the cost of sending stuff into orbit is, not surprisingly, sending stuff into orbit. They got to do that for free*.

*Hidden costs 101: get somebody else to pay for it and say you did everything amazingly cheap.

Re:It is the launch costs that kills you (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608242)

Hey, if NASA is going to chuck a few hundred pounds into orbit anyways, and the launcher can lift a few hundred lbs. + 200 lbs., then why not bolt on some extra science and/or tech-demo missions? Otherwise you're just wasting hardware.

Re:It is the launch costs that kills you (1)

Lazareth (1756336) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608316)

I agree and think it a wise gesture. I know not the margins with which such a launcher can carry "extra baggage", but by all means allow students to benefit from it and learn something in the process. It nurtures further interest which, in my mind, is the best source of learning :)

Re:It is the launch costs that kills you (1)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608620)

Of course. You can't just say afterwards that you can do it much cheaper than those overpaid NASA slobs (whose launch vehicle you just happened to ride up on).

...and the labor rates (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#35609606)

I didn't RTFA (this is slashdot, after all), but for $250,000, I'm guessing that the engineering, assembly, overhead, and all other costs other than raw parts were not included. It's like watching HGTV renovate a kitchen for $4,000, and then asking if a local GC can renovate yours for the same amount.

It's cool that they got to do it, but when the "cost" you claim is two orders of magnitude smaller than what it actually costs, and the reason is that you didn't actually account for the total costs of the mission, it rings a bit hollow.

Re:It is the launch costs that kills you (1)

tyldis (712367) | more than 2 years ago | (#35610386)

'Cheap' is a matter of definition, but putting a payload into orbit has, in many cases, become cheaper than employing someone to do the equivalent job on earth. One such example is Cryosat2 which is measuring ice thickness, which was deemed cheaper than having scientists traveling around the globe and constantly measuring it 'manually'.

I love this trend as it is providing my daily bread :)

Re:It is the launch costs that kills you (1)

jtseng (4054) | more than 2 years ago | (#35610630)

I imagine there were also no costs used to pay salaries since they're students and not professional engineers. (No I don't count the professors' salaries.)

UT... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607260)

is in Tennessee, not Texas.

Re:UT... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35608240)

Yes. UT was founded in 1794, UTexas wasn't founded until 1883, four years after UT became a land-grant university.

And Texas has a smaller football stadium, too.

The real UT demands that the silly Texans stop using our name!

Re:UT... (1)

rourin_bushi (816292) | more than 2 years ago | (#35613330)

Huh, so the Aggies had it right after all. We refer to them as t.u.

Communication log (3, Funny)

ikarys (865465) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607332)

FASTRAC 1: Hey sibling FASTRAC, anything happening over there?
FASTRAC A: Nope - it's space fool.
FASTRAC 1: Well, at least we have each other.
FASTRAC A: I hate you.

Sherwood process communication log (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607508)

Are you sure that the log wasn't really as follows?

FASTRAC1: Friar Tuck... I am under attack! Pray save me!
FASTRAC1: Off (aborted)
FASTRAC2: Fear not, friend Robin! I shall rout the Sheriff of Nottingham's men!
FASTRAC1: Thank you, my good fellow!

Re:Communication log (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607556)

That's the saddest thing I've read today. :(

Louis Vuitton (-1, Offtopic)

helenbetty (2011096) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607428)

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This is getting tiresome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607472)

Every now and then some moron will post something and say 'oh it was done so cheap!'

Unless you guys are delusional, nothing is cheap if something has to come out of it.

Sure gradstudent labor is cheap. Call me when they use grad student labor to send an astronaut up.

Did they pay for the rocket launch? Do these satellites do anything useful, other than being a proof of concept?

No?

Mr. original poster, you speak like a CEO who continually cries ' oh it is so cheap in India'.

Sure, if US roads were like India's, US would be cheaper too.

Is the article misleading? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607488)

The students didn't even make the part for separation, they contracted that out to Planetary Systems Corporation http://www.planetarysystemscorp.com/
I am disappoint. :'(

... when not constained by congressional district (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35607664)

Amazing what engineers can do effectively... when not constrained by which congressional district the funds are to be spent in!

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Not impressive at all. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35607850)

"One of the most impressive things about this mission is that it was done incredibly cheap, at $250,000, which is far below the costs associated with traditional spacecraft."

That's like being impressed that a moped is cheaper than Bugatti Veyron. No effing duh the moped is cheaper.

Re:Not impressive at all. (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608266)

Yeah, but imagine an industry where just about everyone buys Bugatti Veryons regardless of whether they need them or not. Then imagine that some guy comes along and buys a moped instead, because all he needs to do is putt to work every morning, not race every hot-rodder on the road.

The impressive thing isn't just the cost itself, but it's the demonstration that the moped can fulfill your needs at a significantly lower cost. This is an especially impressive thing when 99% of the current car buyers don't think a moped can get them to work at all. ;)

Re:Not impressive at all. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608634)

Yeah, but imagine an industry where just about everyone buys Bugatti Veryons regardless of whether they need them or not.

Since that is an imaginary situation that bears no relation to the real world, I decline to do so.

Re:Not impressive at all. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35610026)

Yeah, but imagine an industry where just about everyone buys Bugatti Veryons regardless of whether they need them or not.

Since that is an imaginary situation that bears no relation to the real world, I decline to do so.

Just because you lack the creativity to see how this might be a wake up call for some, doesn't make it invalid for many others. The real world wouldn't be as amazing as it is without a little imagination. I am disinclined to acquiesce to your negative perspective of this accademic accomplishment.

Re:Not impressive at all. (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 2 years ago | (#35612856)

....that bears no relation to the real world

Kinda like how your simile between the car industry and the space industry bears no relation to the real world, as they utilize completely different design cycles, program cost models, and product requirements?

Contrary to popular Slashdot belief, car analogies don't actually produce any meaningful data for a proper analysis of a given situation. ;)

Re:Not impressive at all. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#35613002)

Kinda like how your simile between the car industry and the space industry bears no relation to the real world, as they utilize completely different design cycles, program cost models, and product requirements?

Since I was only providing a simple example of differing levels of cost and performance, all of that is irrelevant.
 

Contrary to popular Slashdot belief, car analogies don't actually produce any meaningful data for a proper analysis of a given situation.

Yet you understood what I meant immediately. My analogy worked because it displayed a useful comparison between different levels of cost and capability. Your analogy failed, and was rejected, because it didn't provide a useful comparison.

Re:Not impressive at all. (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#35613424)

Especially if everyone building the moped does it for free, the gas is free, and someone tows it behind the Bugatti for free.

While this is AWESOME, and kudos the the 150 people who put it together, the cost is stupid to compare to other satellites.
.

Re:Not impressive at all. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35608486)

Haters gunna hate

Hey, I know! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35608078)

Let's trash people attempting to further science and education by berating their endeavors; that'll sure teach them.

Morons. The lot of you.

A question for anyone familiar with this stuff (1)

alienzed (732782) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608126)

Whenever I hear the NASA budget or the cost of commercial projects like this, I always ask myself if the people working on it are being paid way too much. I mean, real technical human labor seems to have skyrocketed in price, no pun intended.

Re:A question for anyone familiar with this stuff (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#35608332)

I would be very surprised if cost-overruns for big projects are due to overpaid labor. The reality of it is that for missions like those designed by NASA, Ball, Lockheed, and Boeing etc. there are a lot of unknowns. Problems arise in designs that weren't accounted for at the start. That can be anything from a technician not being able to reach a particular screw hole with a screw driver to an improper thermal compound being used that fails a vacuum test and, thus, requires a tear down of an entire subassembly. Some of the missions being designed by the large firms are doing things that nobody has ever done before, at all. Sure, we may have chucked a few Voyager probes out of the solar system, but how many orbiters are there around Saturn other than Cassini? None. So when the engineering team started building Cassini, they were flying into problems that nobody had ever encountered before. The same goes for many other complex missions.

Now, of course, not all problems are technical. For large complicated systems to be developed in a short timeframe, large armies of engineers and technicians need to be present to get the hard work done in parallel with one another. These large armies need to be managed. On top of that, there needs to be a control mechanism in place that allows everyone to have access to the latest and greatest information from everyone else. So you start developing overhead by staffing a managerial team. Then you start accruing costs because you have to build a configuration management system where important design documents and interface documents are checked in and out before they are changed. Then engineers have to spend time filling out all the appropriate paperwork to make sure their check-ins and check-outs are all tracked appropriately. Of course, you also have to meet certain safety regulations, so you probably hire a quality assurance manager and engineer in there somewhere. And since these projects are complex, they are expensive, so you keep a few highly paid accountants on hand to track every penny just in case you get audited. And so on and so on.

Being able to balance a project between efficient, quick development and being safe, quality, well-managed project is a fine art. Unfortunately, it is a fine art that many of the very large organizations have "mastered" so highly that it has become one of their biggest problems. I've worked on engineering projects before where it literally took me a few weeks worth of work just to get approval to use one type of epoxy rather than another type of epoxy that was already on the approved materials list. That's how bad some of the bureaucratic overhead can get on highly complex projects.

Re:A question for anyone familiar with this stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35610104)

This does make me wonder (as I have for a while) if we shouldn't just mass produce some small, mobile (slow/solar wind?) generic probe with a common bank of instruments + (maybe) 1 or 2 custom ones per probe and fling them out all over the system. Aside from mercury, must of the planetary orbits are safe for probes from excessive solar radiation, but this would increase the amount of data coming in from our system a lot. Even if some of it is lower quality because of not using specialized instruments, it would be better than not getting it at all because we couldn't afford to send a special mission with a special probe.

Like hitting a bunch of [captcha: softballs] out into space.

Re:A question for anyone familiar with this stuff (1)

Panaflex (13191) | more than 2 years ago | (#35611108)

Well NASA has done similar things before - for instance the Mars Phoenix reused several components from previous missions (including the failed Mars Polar Lander).

In general I agree with what you're saying - though likely many mission scientist would raise concerns over too much generic hardware. There's issues with weight, mass distribution, power management and of course congress.

Re:A question for anyone familiar with this stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35611572)

I don't know much about NASA, but I do know several people at SpacEx, from engineers to project managers to welders to an (ex) HR manager. They make a "good living", but nothing I would call extravagant.

Amusing (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#35610022)

It's amusing that THEIR satellite separated successfully, but we lost a climate change survey satellite because of some bad self-stealing stem bolts or something. Seriously?

Hammertime? (1)

tpconcannon (619066) | more than 2 years ago | (#35610468)

But did they Stop, Collaborate, & Listen as well?

Oh dear lord (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#35613344)

150 people over 7 years who you didn't need to be pay, and they didn't pay for the launch, AND it's not a long term mission.

It was cheaper you say? I'm shocked I tell you, simply shocked.

I work on them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35617088)

I worked on the FASTRAC project since 2006 and am part of a reserve ground control team in Houston, TX, most of whom are UT alumni. We're pretty proud of what we've done. We have spacecraft in orbit and working, even though they're extremely recalcitrant. It's also kind of a vindication of the Air Force Research Lab's university nanosatellite competitions (we're Nanosat 3. #1 didn't got killed before it was finished and #2 was lost in the inaugural launch of the Delta IV Heavy).

I wish the summary hadn't gone the direction it had. The firsts are dubious, with an awful lot of supporting clauses. The costs are also dubious, not only for reasons cited but other posters (note that SOME of FASTRAC's staff, including some undergrads like me, actually were paid now and again, just not a whole hell of a lot) but also because of generous hardware donations and the launch slot. The mission we launched aboard, STP-S26, is remarkable because it was a full-on success with seven (IIRC) payloads. Fucking amazing.

What FASTRAC has been was an amazing educational experience for quite a lot of college students. Tens of graduate and undergraduate students, including foreign nationals, had the opportunity to do real engineering on a real satellite, then construct that satellite. Students (and alumni) built and run the groundstations that talk to the satellites. In those terms it's a huge success.

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