The QB50 project

The QB50 project, funded by the European Commission, deals with the design and the launch of a network of 50 miniaturized satellites to study the lower layers of the thermosphere / ionosphere. This project receives as from 15th of January 2012 financial support from the FP 7 EC program and is run by an international consortium under the leadership of the von Karman Institute near Brussels.

These satellites called “CubeSats”, completely functional, are built by universities for an educational purpose. All 50 CubeSats will be launched out of Murmansk, situated in the Northern Russia, into a circular orbit at 320 km altitude, inclination 79° around the Earth. Due to atmospheric drag, the orbits will decay and progressively lower layers of the thermosphere / ionosphere will be then explored. A network of standard satellites for in-situ measurements can only be realized by using very low-cost satellites, and CubeSats are the only realistic option.

This project includes universities in 30 European countries and universities in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Peru, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, USA and Vietnam. For many of these countries, CubeSats will be their first satellite in orbit and a matter of national prestige.

The von Karman institute for Fluid Dynamics (VKI) is the lead institute of this consortium and manages this international project which involves over 500 researchers from 50 countries. Jean Muylaert, Director of the Institute and responsible for the project, stresses that it will be the first time that a dedicated CubeSat space mission will be performed for unique atmospheric science and also to demonstrate new in-orbit qualification methods.

Useful websites: for the Qb50 project for the 4th European CubeSat Symposium

FUNcube – Launch details and time frame finalised


Artists impression of FUNcube in space

An agreement has now been reached with ISIS Launch Services BV, who are based in Delft in the Netherlands, for them to provide a launch of the FUNcube-1 CubeSat.

It is anticipated that FUNcube-1, which has been created by a team of volunteer radio amateurs and other specialists over the past two years, will be launched with a number of other spacecraft from a DNEPR rocket sometime in the third quarter of 2012. The flight is planned to take place from the Yasny launch facility which is in southern Russia near to the Kazakhstan border. The spacecraft needs to be completed by the end of July 2012, ready for shipping from the Netherlands to Russia.

The orbit is still to be defined precisely but it is expected to be nearly circular and approximately sun synchronous. This will ensure that the spacecraft has the necessary solar illumination and that it will appear at regular times for educational outreach activities at schools and colleges.

The FUNcube-1 spacecraft will transmit signals that can be easily received directly by schools and colleges for educational outreach purposes. This telemetry will give details of the spacecraft’s health – battery voltages and temperatures and from this it will be possible to determine its spin rate and attitude by plotting simple graphs. Additionally, experimental data and messages can be displayed in an attractive format and provide stimulation and encouragement for students to become interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in a unique way.

AMSAT-UK FUNcube Mission Patch Rev4 20100609

AMSAT-UK FUNcube Mission Patch

The target audience for this project is students at both primary and secondary levels and a simple and cheap “ground station” – actually it looks just like a USB dongle, for schools to use, has already been developed.

In addition to providing educational outreach for schools and colleges around the world, the spacecraft will also provide a U/V linear transponder for radio amateurs during local “night”, at weekends and during holiday periods

The production and testing of the spacecraft itself has already been funded via a legacy and other sources. It will however really help the project if radio amateurs and other interested supporters could contribute something towards the cost of the actual launch itself. With this in mind a special donation scheme has been setup using the Virgin Giving charity donation website

All donations of £25 (or equivalent) or more will be specially acknowledged by the spacecraft itself – exact details will follow shortly!

All donations received from UK tax payers can be “Gift Aided” which will add 20% to the value of your donation.

More information about this exciting project will be made available over the coming months at the website

FUNcube to be on show at the Association for Science Education conference Jan 5-7, 2012

Soyuz rocket blasts off for International Space Station A Russian Soyuz rocket, carrying three astronauts, has blasted off to the International Space Station from Kazakhstan.

The rocket carrying Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko RN3DX, Nasa astronaut Don Pettit KD5MDT and the European Space Agency’s Andre Kuipers PI9ISS lifted off under freezing conditions at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The crew, who will stay at the International Space Station until March, are on a mission to bring the station back up to full manpower after an August cargo launch accident disrupted flights.

The all-veteran crew is scheduled to reach the orbital outpost at 1522 GMT on Friday. They will join station commander Dan Burbank and two Russian cosmonauts who arrived last month, bringing the complex back to its full staff of six.

With the space shuttles’ retirement, Nasa is dependent on Russia to fly crews to the station, a service that currently costs the United States about $350 million (£222 million) a year.

The station, a $100 billion project of the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, is a multi-purpose research laboratory for biology, physics, astronomy and other studies that orbits about 240 miles above Earth.

Amateur Radio Assistance Requested: ISS Plasma Thrust Shadow Experiment

International Space Station

International Space Station

The Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TSNIIMASH) in Russia is conducting a series of space plasma experiments in order to evaluate the shape of previously observed “dead” zone, or shadowing due to the firing of an onboard arcjet plasma source.

Radio Amateurs are invited to participate in the Space plasma experiment “Shadow” onboard the International Space Station (ISS) taking place Nov 25-28 and Dec 2-5.

Integration of Electric Thrust (ET) onboard a spacecraft poses a certain set of problems including electromagnetic compatibility of ET. One matter of interest is that highly ionized exhaust plumes of ET may scatter RF-signals producing large “dead” zone for communications. Continue reading