von Karman Institute – QB50 Constellation Launch and Deployment

After almost 6 years of work, the QB50 constellation of CubeSats will reach space from the International Space Station this spring. The objective of this European project is to design and to deploy in space a network of miniaturized satellites to study the lower layers of the thermosphere. Funded by the European Union and led by the von Karman Institute, QB50 is the result of an international collaboration involving 50 academia and research institutes from 23 different around the 5 continents.

QB50 is conceived with the objectives of facilitating access to space, carrying out a scientific measurement campaign with a satellite constellation to probe the middle and lower thermosphere, demonstrating new technologies in orbit, and promoting space engineering education and international collaboration. The QB50 project presents a number of firsts:

  • The first attempt to provide multi-point measurements of the gaseous molecules and electrical properties in the largely unexplored mid-lower thermosphere, which is located between 200 km and 400 km altitude and considered as risky and difficult to reach. The area is too high for ground radars and small rockets and too low for satellites which can be heavily decelerated by the atmosphere and get trapped by Earth’s gravity.
  • The first real-time coordinated study of the thermosphere resolved in space, altitude, and time on a global scale. The CubeSats will collect data that will be used to validate and enhance forecasting models and improve our understanding of the physical processes which are taking part in the thermosphere. These unique data can be used by scientists for many years and can provide better understanding of the relation between the Earth’s atmosphere and the Sun’s radiation.

A large portion of the QB50 constellation (28 out of 36 CubeSats) will be lifted off end of March from the launch Pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida with the service launch provided by NanoRacks LLC. In the days after the launch, the rocket will dock with the international Space Station and the 28 CubeSats should be deployed end of April outside the Space Station with the help of the robotic arm. A second launch is foreseen in May with the remaining 8 CubeSats.

International collaboration is the key to achieve the challenging goals that are awaiting the humankind both inside and outside the solar system. This project is the very first international real‐time coordinated study of the thermosphere phenomena. The data generated by the constellation will be unique in many ways and they will be used for many years by scientists around the world.

http://www.QB50.eu, Follow us on Twitter @QB50mission

http://www.vki.ac.be, Follow us on Twitter @vki_vonkarman