A cubesat for defence applications tests that carries new GPS technology was launched along with a host of other research cubesats at 1am AEST on Wednesday to the International Space Station (ISS).
Project Biarri is a collaborative cubesat program, led by BAE Systems and developed by UNSW’s Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) and DST Group.
The launch of the first cubesat, known as ‘Biarri Point’, marks the first risk mitigation phase of a 5-Eyes mission in which members are working to explore cubesat formation flying. This involves an effort to better understand the drag and lift forces experienced by the CubeSats while verifying the performance of the ACSER-developed Namuru V32R3A GPS receivers and the Electro Optic Systems (EOS) space situational awareness infrastructure. Biarri Point is essentially a pathfinder satellite for the project, which aims to develop a constellation of formation-flying satellites for a perceived military application.
‘Biarri Squad’, consisting of a further three cubesats due for deployment in 2018, will form the second phase of the mission, consisting of a formation-flying experiment.
A total of 38 cubesats were launched aboard the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft flying atop an Atlas V rocket. Twenty eight cubesats formed part of the QB50 program and will carry out the most extensive measurements ever undertaken of the thermosphere, a region between 200 and 380 kilometres above Earth. This poorly-studied and usually inaccessible zone of the atmosphere helps shield Earth from cosmic rays and solar radiation, and is vital for communications and weather formation.
The three Australian cubesats making up the QB50 payload are UNSW-EC0, built by UNSW’s ACSER which will study the atomic composition of the thermosphere along with new robust computer chips and GPS; INSPIRE-2, a project led by the University of Sydney and involving UNSW and the Australian National University which was also partly built at ACSER; and SuSAT, a joint project between the University of Adelaide and the University of SA.
Sometime in May, the first 20 cubesats – including Australia's INSPIRE-2 and SUSat – will be deployed from the ISS via a Nanoracks launcher, a ‘cannon’ that will eject them at a height of 380 kilometres; over time, they will drift to a lower orbit and begin their measurements. UNSW-EC0 will be deployed with the remaining seven other cubesats around June 17.