UNSW-Ec0 or “CubeSat,” is a small satellite that will be launched soon from the International Space Station. The chassis of the satellite has been devised using 3D printing by the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER). The satellite will be launched in late 2016 as part of the European-led QB50 mission.
QB50 is a massive space project and its success will result in the launch of 50 CubeSats. These are small (20 x 10 x 10cm) satellites built by universities from all across the globe, using reasonable tools. All these satellites are designed to carry out important research operations in the lower thermosphere, a region that lies between 200 and 380 km above the earth’s surface. Researchers from Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW) have keenly shared their data about their QB50 projects, many of which have been devised using 3D printing.
QB50 will showcase CubeSats from countries from all over the world but three of these satellites were designed and built in Australia. Andrew Dempster, Director of ACSER, (part of UNSW) recently spoke about the importance of scrutinizing the thermosphere using CubeSats.
The two other Australian CubeSats are INSPIRE-2and SUSat.
ACSER’s individual innovation is a satellite called “UNSW-Ec0.” This CubeSat weighs 2 kgs and will house the INMS (Ion/Neutral Mass Spectrometer), a device that will determine the mass of ions and neutral atoms in the thermosphere, and four other non-QB50 payloads.
UNSW-Ec0 will last for 6 months and is run by solar cells and batteries.
The chassis of the ACSER-made UNSW-Ec0 is made from 3D printed thermoplastic. The satellite is hence, the first of its kind. These satellites will be tested to see whether such 3D printed structures would withstand the rigors of space.
Elias Aboutanios, project leader of UNSW-Ec0 and a senior lecturer at UNSW said that the satellites will orbit this region for 3-9 months—and maybe up to a year.