Two small satellites developed in an EU space research project were put into orbit yesterday. This is a first for the research programme of the European Commission.
The devices, two double ‘cubesats’ of 10x10x20 cm3, were launched in a precursor flight to the main space mission.
The main mission is intended to explore the lower layers of the thermosphere. The objective of this precursor flight is to reduce the risk of the main mission, in particular by validating in orbit the deployment system.
The system can be adapted to most launchers and allows the staged deployment of multiple cubesats.
The project, called QB50, is supported by almost 8 million under the EU’s 7th Framework Programme (FP7). It is coordinated by the Von Karman Institute in Belgium and comprises a team of 11 partners.
The purpose of the QB50 project is to achieve sustainable and affordable access to space for small scale scientific and technology space missions. QB50 plans to launch up to 50 double and triple cubesats with scientific payloads. The cubesats will be contributed by multiple universities in Europe and across the world.
The scientific mission consists of in-situ measurements of the atmosphere, from the network of the 50 cubesats initially deployed in low Earth orbit and then gradually slowed down through the lower thermosphere.
The Research Executive Agency (REA) manages the project on behalf of the European Commission.
Gilbert Gascard, Director of the REA, said: ‘As the European Commission launches its first satellites as part of its Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, this day marks a milestone in the EU involvement in Space Research, and demonstrates that its Research Programme is a strong component of the EU space policy’.