The detectors from NIT, shipped in QBITO, on their way to the International Space Station

QBITO, the first CubeSat of the UPM, heading to the International Space Station

(source: Universidad Politécnica de Madrid – Link to the original article – translated by automatic means)


The nanosatellites that integrate QB50, including QBITO, will be launched towards the ISS in the coming days. Their joint mission will begin in April when the first group of them is deployed.

QB50 is an international project, led by the Von Karman Institute (Belgium) for the study of the properties of the low thermosphere. It consists of 36 nanosatellites that have been designed, developed and manufactured in 28 countries through research centers or university teams. Of these, 28 will be launched from the International Space Station (ISS) and 8 will launch from the Indian launcher PSLV.

The Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), thanks to the work of its researchers from the Center of Operations and Support to Spanish Users (E-USOC) of the European Space Agency (ESA), signs one of these nanosatellites. QBITO is its first CubeSat, a standard of satellite of small size and of a few kilos of weight (in this case of 10x10x26 centimeters and 2 kilos).

During the more than 2 years they have invested in their development, E-USOC researchers have come up with a “robust and innovative” proposal, in their own words. QBITO has been designed with the aim of making its subsystems very versatile, allowing to meet the needs of diverse missions.

The main developments for this mission are: the power subsystem, the structure, the thermal control subsystem, the antenna deployment mechanisms, the embedded software and the communications subsystem, the latter developed in collaboration with the Higher Technical School of Engineers Of Telecommunication of the UPM.

QBITO has passed the demanding tests required to fly: structural, thermal and functional tests defined by the consortium to ensure mission success, as well as tests defined by Nanoracks, the company in charge of putting satellites in orbit.

Six months of thermosphere study

Like the other CubeSat that make up the QB50 network, QBITO has as scientific mission to study the low thermosphere, little known because its density is too low to use aerostatic balloons and too high to develop lasting missions with satellites. In the thermosphere is absorbed much of the high energy radiation that comes from the Sun, the most harmful to the life of our planet. QBITO will surround Earth in an initial circular orbit of 420 km. Height and 51º of inclination. All CubeSat have identical sensors and their combination allows setting up a multipoint data collection network.

The E-USOC gave the Von Karman Institute its completed and ready-to-fly QBITO in November 2016. From there it was sent to the US and is now inside the Cygnus freighter, which will be launched by the Atlas-V rocket from Cape Canaveral to The International Space Station no earlier than March 27, according to NASA’s latest update.

Once the freighter docks at the International Space Station, the astronauts will extract from it, along with the rest of the cargo, the QB50 nanosatellites. Subsequently these will be deployed in two batches, one in April and one in June. QBITO will do it in the first one. That’s where the mission begins. Its estimated duration is 6 months, since once they reach the destination orbit they will lose altitude due to the aerodynamic resistance until it disintegrates in the atmosphere at the end of its useful life.

In addition to the design and manufacture of the satellite, E-USOC has developed the ground segment and the concept of operations. Through its satellite tracking station, it will send the commands and receive the data emitted from QBITO to then process all these parameters and get the phase of exploitation of the data obtained with the mission is successful.

QBITO, container of experimental science

Scientific research within the QB50 network is the raison d’être of this first CubeSat of the UPM. In addition to this main payload (Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometrer, INMS), it carries two secondary experiments, one that will allow to evaluate the behavior of n-Docosane as phase change material under microgravity conditions and another, Software of determination and control of attitude based on the theory of control by diffuse logic.

To make matters worse, using a CubeSat platform as a platform allows another milestone, the demonstration in orbit. That is, to carry additional payloads to be tested in space environment with a low economic cost. In the case of QBITO, a medium-wave infrared detector is included that does not require refrigeration.

And doing it at the UPM, in a research center located in the campus of international excellence, of Montegancedo, contributes to the educational purpose that also has the project. In the E-USOC team that has worked in QBITO throughout this time have integrated young engineers and students, future researchers and professionals of the sector who have acquired a knowledge of great value for their future to be immersed in a space challenge Of this magnitude.

(photos: UPM)

Update: 18/04/2017

Update: 21/04/2017

Update: 25/05/2017: QBITO has already been deployed and it’s in orbit