Three tiny Australian satellites are on their way to the International Space Station (ISS).

Three cubesats have been launched as part of Australia’s contribution to the international QB50 mission, which will see a total of 36 small satellites sent up to examine the lower thermosphere.

The devices include;

  • a satellite from UNSW that will test radiation-resistant software and self-healing electronics
  • one made by University of Sydney, Australian National University and UNSW that will test a `photonic lantern’ to study the spectrum of light from the Earth and other objects, as well as gathering scientific data on the ionosphere and thermosphere
  • a cubesat built in collaboration between the universities of Adelaide and South Australia to measure the densities of particles in the thermosphere and the amount of water vapour in particular regions of the atmosphere

About a month after they reach the ISS, the cubesats will be deployed into the thermosphere, a layer of atmosphere from about 95km to 500km above the Earth, where they will take different measurements to understand its relationship to other layers of the atmosphere and how that affects our climate.

These type of nanosatellites are the way of the future for space research, according to researcher Dr Matthew Tetlow.

“With the miniaturisation of electronics, it’s now possible to put the same amount of research equipment of a full-sized satellite into something that’s about the size of a loaf of bread… the CubeSat can do the same work that a large satellite does at a much reduced cost.”

It could be the first signs of a new industry for Australia, which has not had the same level of engagement in the space sector as bigger countries like China and the USA.

The space industry is expected to increase in value from an estimated $AU440 billion turnover in 2015 to $AU1.3 trillion by 2030, with the small satellite market expected to be worth $AU9.2 billion by 2020.

Experts say the diversity of design options and relatively low cost of nanosatellite technology are perfectly suited to development in Australia.

Coincidentally, the launch has happened in the same week CUBESAT 2017: Launching Cubesats for and from Australia.

More details on the South Australian cubesat are available below.