Low Earth Orbiting Navigation Experiment for Spacecraft Testing Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking (LONESTAR) - 12.06.17

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

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Low Earth Orbiting Navigation Experiment for Spacecraft Testing Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking (LONESTAR) consists of two satellites, AggieSat4 built by Texas A&M University students, and BEVO-2 built by University of Texas students. LONESTAR is launched from the Japanese Experiment Module-External Facility (JEM-EF) robotic arm using the Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems (SSIKLOPS). After free-flying safely away from the International Space Station, AggieSat4 ejects the BEVO-2 satellite. Both satellites then perform cross-linking communications, exchange data, link to GPS, and transmit 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.

The following 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

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

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
March 2015 - March 2016; March 2016 - September 2016

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions

STS 127: Dual Radio Frequencies (RF) Astrodynamic GPS Orbital Navigator Satellite (DRAGONSat) demonstrated ARD in LEO and gathered flight data with GPS receiver designed for space applications. It launched from space shuttle Endeavour on July 30, 2009.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • LONESTAR further develops and refines autonomous navigation, rendezvous and docking software and procedures.
  • The experiment tests the detachment and cross-linked communication protocols between the two satellites and the ground stations. Additionally, the flight serves as a technology demonstration platform for the relative navigation positioning and attitude control and translation systems.
  • Future NASA missions to destinations such as asteroids and other celestial bodies require the use of autonomous navigation 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.

For successful 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 between two universities (University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University)  each building  satellites 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  demonstrates  autonomous rendezvous and docking (ARD) procedures in space, and provides NASA with actual flight data that is directly linked to the Space Technology Roadmap TA05 Communication and Navigation:  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 assembly of future space structures. Data from LONESTAR have a direct impact on the development of that capability. Each incremental stage in the LONESTAR project benefits NASA by increasing the agency’s knowledge of a currently emerging field where rapid development and cost-effective projects are a major focus.

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 also develops critical skills that are 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 and Protocols

LONESTAR is stowed in a passive stowage carrier within the pressurized SpaceX-5 cargo space. LONESTAR is then transferred to the ISS and stowed, until its operational timeframe. Prior to operations, LONESTAR is attached to the NASA JSC Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems (SSIKLOPS) ejection system, developed for use on the JEM-EF robotic arm. After the crew has activated the deployment mechanism, LONESTAR is transferred through the JEM airlock, to the JEM External Facility, from which LONESTAR is deployed by SSIKLOPS. Once in an independent orbital trajectory, AggieSat4 will eject the BEVO-2 satellite.

The crewmember transfers, stows and unstows LONESTAR. The ISS crew attaches  LONESTAR to the ejection mechanism, and transfers the assembly through the JEM airlock. The crew  releases  LONESTAR from the JEM robotic arm using SSIKLOPS. After release, LONESTAR is programmed to first activate  AggieSat4 nanosatellite .  Then the BEVO-2 nanosatellite activates upon its decoupling from AggieSat4. The two freeflying nanosatellites then perform cross-linked communications with GPS and ground stations.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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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
AggieSat Lab
Texas Spacecraft Laboratory

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Assembled Bevo-2 Satellite being developed at the Satellite Design Laboratory (SDL) at The University of Texas at Austin.  Image courtesy of the SDL at The University of Texas at Austin,  Texas.

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Texas A&M University LONESTAR mission control center. Image courtesy of NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.

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The AggieSat 2 picosatellite before installation into the Space Shuttle Picosatellite Launcher. Image courtesy of AggieSat Lab Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.

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