University of Alberta Students Launch Space Weather Satellite

Ex-Alta 1 is part of the QB50 mission, coordinated by the von Karmen Institute (VKI), in Brussels, Belgium, and
funded by the European Commission. The QB50 Mission is to launch a constellation of CubeSats built by dozens of universities from around the world to collect scientific data from the thermosphere (200-380 kilometre altitude).

According to VKI, “QB50 is an international project that is launching a constellation of 28 CubeSats to investigate the mid to lower thermosphere. The 28 CubeSats are designed and manufactured by students at universities around the world, on five different continents. The lower thermosphere is the least explored region of the atmosphere, and these CubeSats provide the perfect means to conduct in-situ measurements of this region.”

Inside Ex-Alta 1

The Ex-Alta 1 satellite is developed per standardized CubeSat units (1U=10x10x10 cm) and weighs less than 1.33 kg (3 lbs) per U. About the size of a loaf of bread, Ex-Alta 1 is three standard units for a total size of 10x10x30 cm and weighs 2.64 kg (5.82 lbs).

Constructed at the University of Alberta by a team of nearly 50 undergraduate and graduate students in the university’s AlbertaSat group, along with professors from the Faculties of Science and Engineering, the Ex-Alta 1 satellite is equipped with three science payloads. The payloads include a multi-needle Langmuir probe to measure the density of electrons in the lower thermosphere, a dosimeter to monitor ionizing radiation and a digital miniaturized fluxgate magnetometer developed at the university to measure fluctuations in the magnetic field. The three science payloads operate independently, however the data they will generate form complementary datasets.

The satellite also includes a power system, batteries and boards to distribute power as well as turn systems on and off and a computer subsystem to manage and collect data and send to the radio. The Athena on-board computer for cube satellites, part of the open source Open CubeSat Platform (OCP), was designed and built by senior undergraduate students at the University of Alberta. The satellite is also equipped with a 60 cm deployable boom that extends the magnetometer away from the spacecraft.

Ex-Alta 1 also incorporates a GPS navigation system provided by NovAtel® to identify its position and update the time onboard the satellite.