The International Space Station will receive three Australian-designed cubesats today, with the launch scheduled for a little after 1pm AEST. Part of the QB50 project, the one-kilogram satellites will eventually make their way to Earth’s lower thermosphere to conduct research that could impact everything from weather prediction to communications. Best of all, NASA will be livestreaming the launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida, starting from 12:45pm.
The QB50 project has two objectives — scientific research of Earth’s lower thermosphere and to “demonstrate the possibility” of a bunch of universities worldwide collaborating on a large-scale initiative involving getting stuff into space.
As the name suggests, the idea is to get 50 cubesats into the thermosphere, with the construction of the satellites split between 27 countries. UNSW is responsible for two units, called “UNSW-EC0” and “INSPIRE-2”.
What are the benefits of packing the thermosphere with cubesats? Dr Elias Aboutanios, UNSW’s Faculty of Engineering explains:
…improving our understanding of the composition and behaviour of the thermosphere will allow us to produce better weather models, improve our long-range communications, better protect our satellites and have a better understanding of the interaction of solar activity with our Earth environment.
According to the QB50 website, the cubesats are superior to previous methods — rather than firing off “atmospheric explorers” that could only conduct experiments for “a few tens of minutes”, the cubesats will be “in-situ” and deliver data consistently for months.
UNSW’s local project page says the launch will be livestreamed via NASA, however, it doesn’t seem to be on the live event schedule. It’s meant to take place between 12:45pm and 2:15pm, so be sure to check in soon if you’re curious.
In the meantime, here’s a short clip from UNSW where Dr Aboutanios talks a bit about the satellites and the research they’ll help with.