Successful launch of first phase of QB50 CubeSats on their way to the International Space Station

20 April 2017

Originally conceived by the European Space Agency’s Dr Ruedeger Reinhard, QB50 is a European Union-funded mission to support universities and schools from all over the world in designing, building and launching their own small, affordable satellites called CubeSats to collectively study the physics and chemistry of the middle and lower thermosphere of the Earth for the first time.

A large portion of the QB50 constellation (28 out of 36 CubeSats) lifted off at 16:11 GMT on 18th April from the launch Pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Over the next few days, the spacecraft will dock with the international Space Station and next month, the 28 CubeSats should be deployed into space. A second launch is foreseen in May with the remaining 8 CubeSats. After deployment, the CubeSats will orbit around the Earth several times, dropping gradually in altitude before completely burning up in the atmosphere, with a lifetime between 1 to 2 years. During their long descent, the satellites will take a large number of measurements of the gaseous molecules and electrical properties of the thermosphere.

This project represents a unique collaboration between universities and research institutes from 23 countries around the world, coordinated by an international consortium with funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technical Development*. The key objectives of the mission include facilitating access to space for universities and research centres, performing measurements in the thermosphere, demonstrating new technologies in orbit and promoting space collaboration and science education. The QB50 CubeSats have been designed and built by a large number of young engineers, supervised by experienced staff at their universities and guided by the QB50 project through reviews and feedbacks.

UCL is a key member of the consortium with lead responsibility for the scientific aspects of the mission. In particular, UCL-MSSL led the development and procurement of the scientific instruments for the mission. 44 highly miniaturised instruments were developed by a consortium of three Universities, UCL-MSSL, the University of Dresden and the University of Oslo. 11 of the 36 CubeSats will carry the MSSL built Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometers. UCL-MSSL have also built UCLSat, one of the 36 CubeSats, due to be launched along with the 7 other CubeSats aboard a PSLV rocket in the last week of May.

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