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3D Printed CubeSat Among 50 Satellites to Be Launched into the Thermosphere This December

by • August 8, 2016 • No Comments

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A giant solar flare in 2010 [Image: NASA]

At the top of my bucket list is finally seeing the Northern Lights. On the other hand auroras quite at times make an appearance where I live, they’re a rarity, and I’ve missed them the few times they’ve shown up in Ohio in my lifetime. I’m always on the alert for news of increased solar activity, and thus increased future for the Northern Lights to extend extra
south than they normally do. One of these days I’m in fact going to see them, actually if I have to take a trip up to the far north to do so.

Of course, approximately equitething comes with a downside, and the solar flares and solar storms that generate the attractive aurora light shows can in addition wreak havoc with electronics on planet Earth, thanks to the sudden spikes in radiation. It is complex to predict how solar flares can affect the planet Earth, partly for the reason most of the futurely damaging activity takes place in the thermosphere, a region above the planet Earth that we yet understand quite little of.

We’ll soon understand extra
, yet, thanks to the QB50 project, a multinational initiative that can commence 50 CubeSat satellites into the thermosphere to gather data. The majority of the satellites, that were contributed of 48 universities and research institutions of 28 countries, can be commenceed to the International Space Station in December, and of there into orbit in the thermosphere. It can be the biggest, most thorough study of the region at any time undertaken.

“This region is poorly understood and complex to meacertain,” said Andrew Dempster, Director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) at the University of New South Wales. “And yet, it’s the interface between our planet and space. It is where much of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation of the Sun collides with the planet Earth, and generates auroras and future hazards that can affect power grids, communications and GPS receivers.”

trophosphereEach satellite can have various assigned tasks – thermosphere-related as well as for other individual research purposes. The ACSER-created satellite UNSW-Ec0, for example, can study the atomic composition of the thermosphere, and can have a few extra
unrelated experiments to conduct. One of those involves a space-enabled GPS receiver, created by Dempster, that can study how signals reflected of planet Earth pass through the ionosphere; another is centered around testing the reliability of a microkernel desktop chip in the complex radiation of space. One other desktop chip can be tested to see if it can self-correct malfunctions caused by cosmic rays, practuallyting the satellite of crashing.

So there’s RAMSES (Rapid Manufacture of Space Exposed Structures). UNSW-EC0’s chassis was 3D printed of thermoplastic, and the USNW team is ready to see how it holds up in the unfriendly environment of the thermosphere. If it does well, it’ll be a big step for researchers who are exploring 3D printing as an inexpensive alternative in the make of satellites.

The team behind the UNSW-Ec0 included researchers and students, most working on a volunteer basis; one of them were Dr. Elias Aboutanios, Project Leader; Dr. Barnaby Osborne, Project Manager; Dr. Joon Wayn Cheong, Technical Lead; Dr. Eamon Glennon, Namuru GPS Payload Lead; Dr. Ediz Cetin, RUSH FPGA Payload Lead; Prof. Gernot Heiser, Sel4 Payload Lead; and student volunteers which include John Chung Lam, William Andrews, Benjamin Southwell, Tom Croston, Luyang Li, Daniel Sherratt, James Bultitude, Shannon Green, Tim Broadbent, William Huynh, and Yiwei Han.

The satellites can orbit anywhere of 3 to 12 months, depending on how long they last – no one understands for certain, as this type of experiment hasn’t been attempted preceding. (It’d be rad if the 3D printed satellite lasted the longest, wouldn’t it?) On December 30, the satellites, that weigh of 2kg every, can be commenceed in an Orbital ATK Antares rocket of Wallops Island in Virginia. Shortly after they arrive at the International Space Station, they’ll be fired into orbit of the NanoRacks CubeSat commenceer.

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Dr. Elias Aboutanios with the USNW-Ec0 [Photo: Grant Turner/UNSW]

And and so? We get to learn things that no one has at any time understandn preceding – which include answers that may assist us to practuallyt blackouts and dangerous airline communication errors that can outcome of thermospheric disturbances.

“You’ve got vacuum, you’ve got wild temperature swings, but you in addition have a lot of radiation, cosmic rays, solar radiation,” said Dr. Elias Aboutanios, project leader for the USNW-Ec0 satellite. “These can upset electronics. So this can allow us to recover of these errors.”

Below, you can see a desktop animation of USNW-Ec0 deploying into the thermosphere. Discuss all of this extra
in the 3D Printed Satellite forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source: UNSW]