May 25, 2017 – CU Boulder’s QB50 CubeSat, named “Challenger,” was successfully deployed from the International Space Station last night at 11:25 PM MDT. The release came just over a month after the satellite was launched from Cape Canveral to the ISS.
Challenger is a nano-satellite, about the size of a loaf of bread, and was designed and built by students working under the direction of aerospace faculty. CubeSats generally weigh less than three pounds each and use off-the-shelf electronic components. They are designed to facilitate access to space research at lower cost.
The satellite is operating successfully, with data being received at 12:48 AM when Challenger passed over CU Boulder’s ground monitoring station on east campus. Over the next week, students and faculty will evaluate the information they have received and work through their commissioning checklist to ready the CubeSat for its long term mission.
Challenger is one of more than two dozen small satellites launched in a unique collaboration between between universities and research institutes from 23 countries around the world. The QB50 project is effort of the von Karman Institute, located in Belgium, and aims to learn mjore about the mid-lower thermosphere, an area of the atmosphere located between 125-250 miles in altitude (200-400 km). What we know about this area of the thermosphere is limited because it is difficult and risky to reach. It is too high in altitude to be measured by ground radar or small rockets and is too low for most satellites.
CubeSats are designed to facilitate access to space research at a lower cost and enable universities to provide students with real-world engineering and science experience. Professor Scott Palo said 53 students took part in the construction of Challenger.
In addition to its scientific mission, Challenger also includes multiple personal touches. The satellite sports an engraved CU Boulder buffalo on an interior component, and contains a memorial to its namesake, the US Space Shuttle Challenger. CU Boulder aerospace graduate Ellison Onizuka (BS 69’, MS 69’) served as a mission specialist on the Challenger Shuttle flight.
Challenger launched on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 9:11 AM MDT from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas V rocket, built by Colorado-based United Launch Alliance.