Enshrined space industry pioneer who developed satellite technology now calls Central Texas home

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk once asked the industry hall of famer for advice
Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 7:06 PM CDT
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HEWITT, Texas (KWTX) - An 86-year-old pioneer in the space industry, whom Elon Musk once turned to for advice when founding SpaceX, is now making his home in Central Texas after an illustrious career which included developing technology for satellites in use today.

For his four decades of work, Bob Twiggs, of Hewitt, is being inducted into multiple hall of fames. Twiggs is known as the “father of the CubeSat” after inventing the technology for miniature satellites used for space research.

Twiggs grew up on a farm in Idaho but spent the better part of 40 years teaching at multiple universities. He recently moved to Central Texas from Kentucky to marry Francene, a woman whom he met online after the passing of his wife.

Twiggs was inducted into the Space and Satellite Hall of Fame in Washington D.C. on March 22 and his CubeSat technology will be inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“I never imagined this. I’m a farm boy from Idaho,” Twiggs laughed. “I never thought I’d get into something like this but it’s kind of neat. I feel like I’ve made a contribution.”

Twiggs says most of his contributions started as ways to teach students.

The professor worked on his first satellite while supervising students at Weber State in Utah. In 1985, with the help of NASA, that satellite launched on the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Bob Twiggs was inducted in the Space and Satellite Hall of Fame in Washington D.C. on March 22.
Bob Twiggs was inducted in the Space and Satellite Hall of Fame in Washington D.C. on March 22.(Courtesy Photo)

The CubeSat, which is now the de facto industry standard with more than a thousand successful launches to date, also started as a teaching tool during his 14-years at Stanford, where he established the Space Systems Development Laboratory.

“We didn’t have much of a budget,” he said smiling. “We did it more for educational purposes.”

“In fact, we got lots of criticism. A lot of people said, ‘that’s a really dumb idea’ but then the amount of money put into satellites started decreasing and so the aerospace industry started paying attention.”

That class project ended up launching from a Russian rocket in 2003 and forever changed space exploration.

“Everyone said, ‘it’s a technology that kind of sets the industry in a different direction’ and so there have been over 1,400 little satellites launched and we did the first one,” Twiggs said.

The space industry pioneer is so highly regarded in his field, Elon Musk once turned to him for help.

The 86-year-old recalls Musk coming to his office at Stanford while Musk, the CEO and founder of SpaceX, was in the early stages of building his company.

“He came to my office and said, ‘I’m looking for some of your best students you can recommend to me,’” Twiggs said. “From that point on, for the next couple of years, almost every one of them I recommended, he hired.”

Twiggs said he last exchanged emails with Musk when he founded Tesla.

The space pioneer is now retired but enjoying time with his new wife and time in his workshop in Central Texas.

“This is an amazing place where we’re 25 miles from MCgregor where they’ve got the rocket engines,” Twiggs excitedly said.

“We’ve got Blue Origin here. We’ve got Firefly in Austin. We have all the stuff going on in Boca Chica,” Twiggs said. “You know Texas ought to be a prime place for training students that want to go into these things and they get to stay home and work on them. Imagine that!”

Twiggs still can’t believe his passion in the classroom landed him in the Hall of Fame.

“I’m not a guy that likes to wave my hands. I don’t mind going to a conference and giving a presentation, but it was really kind of embarrassing,” he laughed. “I was determined I was going to turn it down, but Francene talked me into taking it.”

“But, you know, it’s kind of nice. It’s like maybe I did something pretty good and the thing I like about it best is what it’s doing to the education of the students, what opportunity it gives them.”

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