engineering careers  #cubesat 50 mini-satellites set to study thermosphere
engineering careers  #cubesat 50 mini-satellites set to study thermosphere

We know very little about our atmosphere’s outermost layer, but that is about to change as Engineers are working towards launching 50 mini-satellites to study it.

Engineers from 28 countries, including Europe, Japan, the US, and Australia are working on an international project called QB-50. This will see 50 CubeSats (tiny satellites measuring 10cm on each side, and weighing only 1kg each) launched from the International Space Station (ISS) to study Earths thermosphere.


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The thermosphere is crucial to us as we rely on it to protect us from cosmic radiation. It exists between 200-380kms above Earth’s surface. The CubeSats will feed back data on how it functions. Once launched from ISS 380km orbit they will drift down the lower regions of the thermosphere

Andrew Dempster, part of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) team explains the thermosphere “is a region poorly understood and hard to measure. And yet, it’s the interface between our planet and space[.] It’s where much of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from the Sun collides with Earth, and generates auroras and potential hazards that can affect power grids and communications”

The UNSW team will produce two CubeSats; UNSW-Ec0, INSPIRE-2w. These will study the atomic composition of the thermosphere. A wider joint project between University of Sydney, UNSW, and the Australian National University called INSPIRE-2 will measure the electron temperature and density of plasma in the region.

A render of how the CubeSats will look

As CubeSats are so small they are a lot cheaper to launch than large satellites. This means researchers are able to get a lot more data for their money. However, each satellite will still cost around $750,000 USD to produce.

The launch date is now set for December. The satellites will be sent to ISS on an Orbital ATK Antares rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia then deployed over the next month.

Interested in finding out more about CubeSats?

CubeSats, the type of miniaturised satellite that will be used for this study could revolutionise space science due to their low cost and (comparatively) easy production using off-the-shelf components. Find out more about them in this video by NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory – Published Dec 2015

A full list of all 50 CubeSats and their institutions is below. More information of Frequencies can be found

SatelliteCountrySupporting Organisation
14-BISATBrasilInstituto Federal Fluminense
Aalto 2FinlandAalto University
ANUSAT 2IndiaAnna University
Aoxiang 1ChinaShaanxi Engineering Laboratory for Microsatellites
BeEagleSatTurkeyIstanbul Technical University
BUSAT 1ChinaSchool of Astronautics – Beihang University
DelFFi-Delta/PhiNetherlandsDelft University of Technology
DeltaDsatUKCranfield University
DragSail-CubeSatGermanyFH Aachen University of Applied Sciences
DUTHSATGreeceDemocritus University of Thrace
EntrySatFranceISAE Institut Superieur de l’Aeronautique et de l’Espace
ExAlta 1CanadaUniversity of Alberta
GAMASATPortugalFaculty of Engineering of the University of Porto
HAVELSATTurkeyHavelsan & Istanbul Technical University
HoopoeIsraelHerzliya Science Center
i-INSPIRE IIAustraliaUniversity of Sydney
InflateSailUKSurrey Space Centre
KPI-SAU 1UkraineNational Technical University of Ukraine – Kiev Polytechnic Institute
LilacSat 1ChinaHarbin Institute of Technology
LINKKoreaKorea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
LituanicaSAT 2LithuaniaNPO Innovative Engineering Projects
Nano-JASMINEJapanUniversity of Tokyo
NJUST 1ChinaNanjing University of Science and Technology
NUDTSatChinaNational University of Defense Technology
OGMS-SAFranceUniversite Paris-Est Creteil
PegasusGermanyFachhochschule Wiener Neustadt
PHOENIXTaiwanNational Cheng Kung University
PICASSOBelgiumBelgian Institute of Space Aeronomy
QARMANBelgiumVon Karmin Institute for Fluid Dynamics
QB-ColombiaColombiaUniversidad Distrital Francisco Jose de Caldas
QBITOSpainUniversidad Politecnica de Madrid
QBUS 1USAUniversity of Colorado Boulder
QBUS 2USAUniversity of Michigan
QBUS 3USAStanford University
QBUS 4USAUniversidad del Turabo
RIOSATAustriaGraz University of Technology
RoBiSAT 1/2RomaniaInstitute of Space Science
SamSatRussiaSamara State Aerospace University
SAT_IP2FranceINSSET Institut superieur des sciences et techniques
SIMBABelgiumRoyal Meteorological Institute
SNUSAT 1South KoreaSeoul National University
SOMP2GermanyDresdenTechnische University
SpaceCubeFranceMines Paristech
STU 1ChinaShanghaiTech University
SUSatAustraliaUniversity of Adelaide
UCLSatUKMSSL University College London
UNSW-EC0AustraliaUniversity of New South Wales
UPSatGreeceUniversity of Patras
URSA MAJORItalyUniversity of Rome
VZLUsat 1TschechienAerospace Research and Test Establishment
X-CubeSatFranceEcole Polytechnique
YUsend-QB50KanadaYork University Toronto
ZA-AeroSatSouth AfricaStellenbosch University
ZJU CubeSatChinaZhejiang-Universitat