Mission Objectives





The QB50 mission will demonstrate the possibility of launching a network of 50 CubeSats built by Universities Teams all over the world as a primary payload on a low-cost launch vehicle to perform first-class science in the largely unexplored lower thermosphere.


Space agencies are not pursuing a multi-spacecraft network for in-situ measurements in the lower thermosphere because the cost of a network of 50 satellites built to industrial standards would be extremely high and not justifiable in view of the limited orbital lifetime. No atmospheric network mission for in-situ measurements has been carried out in the past or is planned for the future. A network of satellites for in-situ measurements in the lower thermosphere can only be realised by using very low-cost satellites, and CubeSats are the only realistic option.

More information on the launch campaign 1 (ISS) and launch campaign 2 (PL).




Facilitating Access to Space


One of the main purposes of the QB50 project is to achieve a sustained and affordable access to space for small scale research space missions and planetary exploration.

This target is addressed through the development of a dedicated launcher interface, the QuadPack. Thanks to this deployment system, already built and flight proven, the awareness of the CubeSat concept to users and launch providers is increasing. In particular, the QB50-DS launch campaign, the first of the three launch campaign of QB50, will be part of a Dnepr cluster launch fully dedicated to CubeSats and only QuadPacks will be used as deployment system.

The development of the QuadPacks is indeed offering a sustainablefacilitation of the access to space, being qualified for a large number of vectors and being capable to be flown on many launches in the coming years.

The fact that the global CubeSat community, the launch providers, the European industry and in general the small satellites world are benefitting of a technology developed within QB50 and thanks to an FP7 program, is a remarkable achievement of the Project.




Scientific Research


Another objective of the QB50 project is to carry out atmospheric research within the lower thermosphere, between 200 - 380km altitude, which is the least explored layer of the atmosphere. To explore this region, atmospheric explorers were flown in the past in highly elliptical orbits (typically 200 km perigee, 3000 km apogee); they carried experiments for single-point, in-situ measurements but the time spent in the region of interest was only a few tens of minutes. By contrast, QB50 will provide multi-point, in-situ measurements for a time period on the order of months, instead of minutes. 

Nowadays, sounding rocket flights provide the only in-situ measurements. While they do explore the whole lower thermosphere, the time spent in this region is rather short (a few minutes). There are only a few flights per year and they only provide measurements along a single column. Powerful remote-sensing instruments on board Earth observation satellites in higher orbits (600–800 km) receive the backscattered signals from atmospheric constituents at various altitudes. While this is an excellent tool for exploring the lower layers of the atmosphere up to about 100 km, it is not ideally suited for exploring the lower thermosphere because there the atmosphere is so rarefied that the return signal is weak. The same holds for remote-sensing observations from the ground with lidars and radars.

The multi-point, in-situ measurements of QB50 will be complementary to the remote-sensing observations by the instruments on Earth observation satellites and the in-situ measurements by sounding rockets. All atmospheric models, and ultimately thousands of users of these models, will benefit from the measurements obtained by QB50 in the lower thermosphere.


Three different types of science sensors, each of which is part of a science set, will be used to fulfill the objective of carrying out atmospheric research in the lower thermosphere. These science sensors include the Ion-Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) as part of set 1, the Flux-Φ-Probe Experiment as part of set 2 and multi-Needle Langmuir Probe (m-NLP) as part of set 3. 


Set 1

Ion-Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS)

Thermistors/thermocouples/RTD (TH)

Set 2

Flux-Φ-Probe Experiment (FIPEX)

Thermistors/thermocouples/RTD (TH)

Set 3

multi-Needle Langmuir Probe (m-NLP)

Thermistors/thermocouples/RTD (TH)


Most of the QB50 CubeSats will accommodate one of the three sets as their payload and will operate it for few months. Each of the three science sensors have their own set of requirements and interface specification which is specified in their respective Interface Control Document (ICD). 




In-Orbit Demonstration (IOD)

The third objective of the QB50 Project is to serve as a platform for technology demonstration. A handful of QB50 CubeSats, which are not accommodating  the science sensors, are carrying their own payload, which are mainly technology that is to be qualified in space. Four of these CubeSats - QARMAN, Delta, Phi, InflateSail - which are part of the QB50 Consortium are examples of IOD mission and exemplify the third objective of the Project. 


QARMAN (QubeSat for Aerothermodynamic Research and Measurements on AblatioN) is a triple unit CubeSat  which is being built by VKI for the purpose of studying the atmospheric re-entry process and the associated aerothermodynamic phenomena. It will incorporate an ablative Thermal Protection System (TPS) to the structure to protect the CubeSat from extreme heating during re-entry. Similarly, the side panels will be thermally insulated with appropriate TPS for a prolonged functionality of the subsystems. It will also demonstrate the use of a passive de-orbiting system and also the possibility of non-powered rendez-vous. 


The DelFFi mission consists of 2 identical 3U CubeSats - Delta and Phi - which are being built by TU Delft. The objective of this mission is to demonstrate autonomous formation flying between Delta and Phi by utilizing highly innovative concepts and methodologies. The relative dynamics of Delta and Phi will be autonomously controlled using various guidance, navigation and control technologies. In addition, Delta and Phi will also carry a FIPEX and contribute to the QB50 science mission as well. For more info please follow this link.


InflateSail is a 3U CubeSat built by the Surrey Space Centre (SSC) whose primary objective is the flight demonstration of an inflatable rigidisable sail structure. A key part of the InflateSail technology demonstration is the inflation and in-orbit rigidisation using Cool Gas Generators (CGGs). InflateSail consists of a 1 m long inflatable rigidisable cylindrical boom, which supports approximately a 3m x 3m tape-spring supported sail. It will be placed into an elliptical orbit of 700km x 300km. For more info please follow this link.





QB50 invited universities worldwide to join the project and send a satellite to space. Numerous proposals have then been received and the CubeSats been selected. As a consequence the QB50 CubeSats will be designed and built by a great number of young engineers, supervised by experienced staff at their universities and guided by the QB50 project through reviews and feedback. Those engineers will not only learn about space engineering in theory but will leave their universities with hands-on experience.