Chi­nese CubeSats to par­tic­i­pate in in­ter­na­tional study project

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By CHENG YINGQI

Five Chi­nese-made mi­crosatel­lites will be sent into space in the near fu­ture as part of a pro­posed in­ter­na­tional net­work of 50 satel­lites that will study the lower ther­mo­sphere, a layer of the Earth’s at­mos­phere.

The QB50 project, an ini­tia­tive by the Von Kar­man In­sti­tute in Brus­sels and funded by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, will si­mul­ta­ne­ously launch 50 CubeSats — mi­crosatel­lites com­posed of cube-shaped units — on a sin­gle launch ve­hi­cle.

“The project has set records for the num­ber of par­tic­i­pant coun­tries in in­ter­na­tional mi­crosatel­lite projects and the num­ber of satel­lites car­ried by a sin­gle rocket,” said Zhou Jun, di­rec­tor of the Shaanxi En­gi­neer­ing lab­o­ra­tory for Mi­crosatel­lites at North­west­ern Polytech­ni­cal Uni­ver­sity in Xi’an, the cap­i­tal of the north­west­ern province.

The CubeSats were pro­duced by uni­ver­si­ties in more than 30 coun­tries and re­gions.

Five Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties — North­west­ern Polytech­ni­cal Uni­ver­sity, the Harbin In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, the Na­tional Uni­ver­sity of De­fense Tech­nol­ogy, Nan­jing Uni­ver­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy and Bei­hang Uni­ver­sity — have each pro­vided a mi­crosatel­lite for the project.

Euro­pean coun­tries have pro­duced 19, while there are 10 from the United States, three from Ja­pan and two from Canada.

“The satel­lite con­stel­la­tion will be sent into an or­bit of 350 km and fall to­ward Earth from there. In the fol­low­ing three months, they will ex­plore the ther­mo­sphere be­tween 90 km and 320 km (above the Earth), about which we know lit­tle,” Zhou said.

While most of the satel­lites will be dou­ble-unit CubeSats — com­posed of two units, each ap­prox­i­mately the size of a 2 liter con­tainer — Zhou’s team be­came so am­bi­tious that it de­vel­oped the world’s first 12-unit CubeSat.

“De­vel­op­ing a 12-unit CubeSat is not as sim­ple as pil­ing up Lego bricks, so we had to re­design the satel­lite’s struc­ture and power sys­tem,” said Huang He, an as­so­ci­ate professor at North­west­ern Polytech­ni­cal Uni­ver­sity.

In dou­ble-unit CubeSats, one unit pro­vides the usual satel­lite func­tions while the other car­ries sen­sors for re­search. By con­trast, the 12-unit CubeSat pro­vides much more space for sen­sors.

In June, a Long March 7 rocket car­ried a 12-unit CubeSat into a 350-kmhigh or­bit to test its struc­ture, ther­mal con­trol and power sys­tems, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and the di­rec­tion of its axes.

“Our CubeSats use a wide range of off-the-shelf com­mer­cial com­po­nents, so dur­ing the last launch we had to test the satel­lite’s key tech­nolo­gies to en­sure its de­pend­abil­ity,” Huang said.

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