Noble Hatten
Noble Hatten, Ph.D. ASE, has been selected to lead the Texas Spacecraft Lab.

In the Texas Spacecraft Lab (TSL) at The University of Texas at Austin, undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of disciplines design and build small satellites. By building these cost-effective satellites, the TSL advances the space industry, making it easier and less expensive for groups of satellites to work together and perform multiple tasks at the same time. 

Students working in the lab are responsible for every stage of the process: designing, building, coordinating the launch and following the satellite’s progress once in orbit. Every success and failure is a learning experience, and students return to the lab with ideas to make the next satellite even better.

As of this January, the TSL has a new leader—research associate Noble Hatten, who received his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at UT Austin. Right now, Hatten is focused on recruiting new students to work on a variety of hands-on satellite missions.

“One thing that is very exciting is that I think the interest is always there,” Hatten said. “Once the word starts getting out, I do not think it will be difficult to get students interested.”

Hatten has plenty of experience working with small satellites in the TSL. He has been at UT since 2007, having obtained his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in aerospace engineering. As an undergraduate, Hatten contributed to the design and fabrication of the propulsion system of the 2-STEP mission, mostly dealing with the student leads for the propulsion system and structure, as well as the student project manager.

“The understanding is that’s why the lab director is here—to help—but if we’re able to recruit good students to be student managers and systems engineers, who really have the motivation to get invested in these projects and manage their peers, I think that is the idea—to have the students be as autonomous as possible,” Hatten said. “The idea is to have the more experienced students help the less experienced students.”

Hatten also wants to collaborate with other institutions, including other universities, government organizations such as NASA and the U.S. Air Force and private businesses.

small satellite
Students in the Texas Spacecraft Lab are responsible for designing, building and coordinating the launch of small satellites, as well as following the satellite’s progress once in orbit.

In the past, the TSL has also been involved with outreach to younger prospective students, to encourage their interests in engineering and let them know that the opportunity to design and build small satellites could be available to them as undergraduates. Hatten plans to bring back this outreach work, especially reaching out to demographics that are underrepresented in the department.

Currently, Hatten is renovating the TSL space and performing the administrative tasks required to launch the ARMADILLO satellites. Built in collaboration with Baylor University, ARMADILLO became the TSL’s second satellite to place first in the University Nanosatellite Program competition in 2013. Hatten says he expects ARMADILLO to launch in either late 2017 or early 2018.

As students begin to become involved once again, Hatten envisions the TSL as a hubbub of activity. 

“I think it’s good to give students an ownership of something real that they won’t necessarily get from a lab class, where there are five other groups working on the same thing, and if something goes wrong, you lose an hour for it,” Hatten said. “Working on a project like this for a long period of time, that gives me more appreciation for it. I think the new generation of students in the TSL will feel the same way.”