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Australian satellites get go-ahead for space launch

Three Australian “CubeSats” have been given the all-clear to be launched from the International Space Station next January, as part of a global project to learn more about the thermosphere.

Part of the QB50 project, the tiny satellites will orbit for up to a year, collecting information about the lower thermosphere, which is responsible for weather and solar activity. In particular, they will record the composition, electrical activity and magnetic fields of the thermosphere.

“This region is poorly understood and hard to measure,” said Andrew Dempster, Director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) at UNSW, where two of the CubeSats were built.

“And yet, it is the interface between our planet and space. It is where much of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from the sun collides with the Earth, and generates auroras and potential hazards that can affect power grids, communications and GPS receivers.”

The satellites include ACSER’s UNSW-Ec0, which will study the atomic composition of the thermosphere; INSPIRE2, a joint project between USYD, UNSW and ANU which will measure the electron temperature and plasma density of the region; and SUSat, a joint project between the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia.

A total of 50 satellites will be launched as part of the QB50 project, with 27 countries contributing their satellites.

This will be the first launch of Australian-built satellites since 2002, when FedSat was launched from the Tangashima Space Center in Japan.

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