Low Earth Orbiting Navigation Experiment for Spacecraft Testing Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking (LONESTAR) - 01.09.14

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone LONESTAR is a pair of satellites, AggieSat -4 built by Texas A&M University students, and BEVO-2 built by University of Texas students. LONESTAR will be launched from the JEM-EF robotic arm. After freeflying safely away from the ISS, AggieSat-4 will eject the BEVO-2 satellite. Both will preform crosslinking communications exchanging data, linking to GPS, and transmitting to ground radio stations.

Science Results for Everyone

Rival universities fly together. Future NASA missions to destinations such as asteroids will require two spacecraft to autonomously rendezvous and dock.  LONESTAR, a pair of satellites built by Texas A&M University and University of Texas students, was launched from the International Space Station  to demonstrate separation of two satellites, platform for attitude control and translation systems, and cross-linked communication between the satellites and with ground control. It also provided data for the space application global positioning system. This investigation was the second of four missions to test individual components and systems, building to a final mission involving a fully autonomous rendezvous and docking sequence.

This content was provided by Darryl May, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.

Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)

  • Darryl May, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States
  • Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)

  • Glenn Lightsey, Ph.D., University of Texas, Austin, TX, United States
  • Helen Reed, Ph.D., Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, United States
  • Developer(s)

    Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, United States
    University of Texas, Austin, TX, United States

    Sponsoring Space Agency
    National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

    Sponsoring Organization
    Technology Demonstration Office (TDO)

    Research Benefits
    Information Pending

    ISS Expedition Duration:

    Expeditions Assigned
    Information Pending

    Previous ISS Missions

    STS-127: Dual RF Astrodynamic GPS Orbital Navigator Satellite (DRAGONSat) demonstrated autonomous rendezvous and docking (ARD) in low Earth orbit (LEO) and gathered flight data with a global positioning system (GPS) receiver designed for space applications. It launched from space shuttle Endeavour on July 30, 2009.

    DRAGONSat consisted of two picosatellites (BEVO-1 built by the University of Texas and AggieSat-2 built by Texas A

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    Experiment Description

    Research Overview

    • LONESTAR further develops autonomous navigation, rendezvous and docking software and procedures.

    • Separation of two satellites and crosslinked communication protocols between them and the ground stations. Additionally, the flight will serve as a technology demostration platform for the attitude control and translation systems.

    • Future NASA missions to destinations such as asteroids will require automonous naviation systems.

    LONESTAR is a low cost, low risk project designed to prove that autonomous rendezvous and docking (ARD) can be performed successfully in space.

    It will also provide invaluable flight data for the global positioning system (GPS) receiver designed strictly for space applications to demonstrate precision relative navigation and precision real-time navigation as well as provide orbit determination.

    To successfully travel beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), to the moon, Mars and beyond the ability for two spacecraft to autonomously rendezvous and dock (ARD) in space must be demonstrated. LONESTAR is a collaborative project with two universities (University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University) to each build a satellite that will ultimately rendezvous and dock with each other in space without the benefit of human intervention.

    DRAGONSat/LONESTAR is an anticipated eight-year program with a launch of the satellites approximately every two years. LONESTAR is the second of four missions and will test individual components and subsystems while the final mission will culminate with the successful docking of two satellites. Each mission builds upon the previous mission culminating in a fully autonomous rendezvous and docking mission. The universities are required to use a global positioning system (GPS) receiver designed by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to gather flight data in the space environment to determine its functionality. The objective is to demonstrate precision real-time navigation capability as well as precision relative navigation between the two satellites.

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    Space Applications
    This project will demonstrate ARD in space and provide NASA with actual flight data that is directly linked to the Space Technology Roadmap TA05 Communcaiotn and Naviation: Position, Navigation and Timing (Onboard Auto Navigation and Maneuver and Relative and Proximity Navigation). ARD will be utilized in future exploration programs for unmanned cargo vehicles and in space assembly. Data from LONESTAR will have a direct impact on the development of that capability.

    Earth Applications
    Student education is enhanced by engaging in a real world scenario including requirements, geographical distance, system engineering, project management, and dealing with diverse cultures. This project will also develop critical skills that will be invaluable to NASA in the future as the aerospace workforce continues to mature and retire. This project also gives NASA insight into the best and brightest students.

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    Operational Requirements
    LONESTAR will be stowed in passive stowage carrier within the pressurized SpaceX-5 cargo space. It will be transferred to the ISS and stowed until its operational timeframe. Unstowed, it will be attached to the NASA JSC ejection system developed for use on the JEM-EF robotic arm. After the crew has activated the deployment mechanism, LONESTAR will be transferred through the JEM airlock to the External Facility from which it will be released. Once in an independent trajectory, AggieSat-4 will eject the BEVO-2 satellite.

    Operational Protocols
    The crew will transfer, stow and unstow the LONESTAR. The ISS crew will attach the LONESTAR to the ejection mechanism and transfer the assembly through the JEM airlock. The crew will release the LONESTAR from the JEM robotic arm. After release, LONESTAR will be programmed to activate the AggieSat-4. AggieSat-4 will activate upon release. The two freefliers will perform crosslink communications and communications with GPS and ground stations.

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    Results/More Information

    TAMU is designing the Aggiesat -4 satellite, purchasing test and flight hardware and beginning subsystem build and testing. UT students are designing the BEVO-2 satellite which will be deployed from the AggieSat-4 satellite. Students are purchasing and testing flight subststems. Students are also writing the requirements and the iCD between the two satellites which compose the LONESTAR payload experiment.

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    Related Websites

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