The QB50 project is a network of 50 cube satellites (CubeSats) that were launched together in December 2016 into a 'string-of-pearls' configuration in a circular orbit at 320 km altitude, inclination 79 degrees.
The UNSW contribution to the QB50 project began in 2012, with a boost of $250,000 secured for the project by Dr Elias Aboutanios. The satellite, named UNSW-EC0, carried an Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer instrument to study the composition of the thermosphere.


How it all started

UNSW joined the project in 2012 with a small group of enthusiastic students and academics in the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER). Over the past 5 years the team has seen over 100 members work on the project, including students, staff and volunteers. The project has produced at least 18 student theses, dozens of conference papers, launched new research areas for UNSW winning two new ARC grants, and the UNSW team alone has attracted many hours of media interest both locally and internationally. 

  • CubeSats comprise a mix of atmospheric double CubeSats and double or triple CubeSats for science and technology demonstration. All atmospheric double CubeSats carry a set of standardised sensors for multi-point, in-situ, long-duration measurements of key parameters and constituents in the largely unexplored lower thermosphere and ionosphere. These multi-point measurements allow the separation of spatial and temporal variations.

    Due to atmospheric drag, the CubeSat orbits will decay and progressively lower and lower layers of the thermosphere/ionosphere will be explored without the need for on-board propulsion. The mission lifetime of individual CubeSats is estimated to be about three months.

  • QB50 studied the re-entry process by measuring a number of key parameters during re-entry, e.g. CubeSat on-board temperature and deceleration.

    The re-entry process was also be studied by comparing predicted (using a variety of atmospheric models, trajectory simulation software tools and CubeSat drag coefficients) and actual CubeSat trajectories and orbital lifetimes, and by comparing predicted and actual times and latitudes/longitudes of atmospheric re-entry.

    UNSW's EC0 (QB50-AU02) CubeSat had four experimental objectives, excluding those specified by the QB50 requirements. These experiments have primary and in some cases secondary experimental objectives.

    1. UNSW Kea Space GPS - The primary objective of this experiment was to test the new Kea GPS board in the space environment, showing its ability to provide position and velocity in orbit. After demonstration of the boards operation, the Namuru board was used to carry out atmospheric sounding using radio occultation.

    2. NICTA seL4 Computer - The primary objective of this experiment was to demonstrate the use of the seL4 operating system in critical system operation in the space environment (ADCS system operation). The secondary objective was to monitor the fault tolerance of the system in a radiation environment.

    3. UNSW Rapid prototyped satellite structure - The primary objective of this experiment was to demonstrate the use of a rapid prototyped 3D printed structure in the space environment.

    4. RUSH: Rapid recovery from SEUs in reconfigurable hardware - The primary objective of this experiment was to demonstrate and validate new approaches to rapidly recovering from Single Event Upsets (SEUs) in reconfigurable hardware. Secondary objectives were to map SEU event occurrences in the thermosphere and to demonstrate in-orbit reconfiguration.

    During 2015 the UNSW QB50 project completed the Assembly, Integration and Testing Review. The cubesat design progressed, with key developments in: algorithm developed for detumbling, pointing and tracking; operational code written and deployed to the flight controller board; and integration of the major subsystems into a flight configuration. The payload teams have completed development of the engineering and flight boards ready for integration. Several versions of the flight structure, RAMSES, have been produced, with the manufacturing process flinalised. The first stack integration and full functional testing was completed, and the client payload, INMS (inertial neutral mass spectrometer), was tested in both software and hardware.

    In 2015 the CubeSat design reached a final level of definition, and assembly and functional test was progressed. The team are now well established in their roles, and there is a good coverage of required skills. All up, there are 28 UNSW and NICTA personnel working on the project. There has been $252,000 committed to the project, and this has leveraged a further $464,000 of in-kind contribution through labour and technology development.

  • To tune in to our satellite's telemetry beacon:

    • Modulation: GMSK @ 4k8 baud
    • Packet format: CSP
    • Carrier-Frequency: 436.525 MHz
    • Packet periodicity: 30 s
    • NORAD Catalogue ID: 42723

    Decoder software can be found here:

    GR Satelite

    DK3WN SatBlog

    1. Number of satellites: 50 double and triple cubesats contributed by various countries around the world. For the list of teams, see here.
    2. Launch: The UNSW-EC0satellite – along with the other QB50 satellites – will be launched by an Orbital ATK Antares rocket in December 2016 from Wallops Island, Virginia, USA (video footage available). They will be housed inside a Cygnus cargo freighter carried by the rocket.
    3. Deployment: The satellites will be deployed from the International Space Station, or ISS, by the Nanoracks CubeSat launcher, a rectangular tube that fires the satellites from the ISS safely, between one and two months after arrival. The will then be released into an orbit at 380 km initial altitude, the same as the ISS (video footage available).
    4. The satellites will collect data for between 3-9 months (but may last 12 months) in orbit in this little-studied region of space, collecting measurements in the kind of detail never before tried. Their orbits will naturally decay, and it will eventually re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up.
    5. As the satellite orbit decays, the satellite will measure various points of the thermosphere and will send measurements to the worldwide network of ground stations.
    6. In addition to the scientific objectives of the QB50 mission, each team has their own engineering and scientific goals for their own satellite, that occupy the remainder of the available payload space.
    7. Two other Australian satellites are part of QB50: i-INSPIRE II, a joint project between the University of Sydney, UNSW and the Australian National University and manufactured at UNSW’s Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research; and SUSat, a joint project between by the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia.

CubeSat basics

Explore system basics including assembly, software and testing information.

The CubeSat cannot always maintain radio contact with ground station to operate its subsystems and payloads. For example, the flight software has the intelligence to determine whether to execute an experiment when there is sufficient battery left, or to abort experiment execution and revert to safe mode in low battery situations. This is developed by a team led by John Chung Lam.

Individual subsystems of the CubeSat are made, modified and assembled for testing at the UNSW ACSER lab.

The CubeSat has to undergo multiple development iterations of structural and electrical integration to achieve perfect compatibility between subsystems.

Space is a very harsh and unforgiving environment, with large temperatures variations and vacuum that can deform structures and hardware. The uNSW-EC0 has undergone 4 days of Thermal-Vacuum Testing that simulates the conditions of space and passed all criteria necessary for it to be proven space-worthy. 

UNSW-EC0 Quasi Static Vibration Test

Vibration testing of the cubesat emulates the lift-off conditions that the satellite's hardware will have to survive. The UNSW-EC0 cubesat has passed all cubesat vibration standard. Watch the video below to learn more.

Experimental payload

A payload refers to the segment of a spacecraft or rocket entrusted with accomplishing the primary mission objectives. Payloads encompass scientific instruments, communication apparatus, or any specialised equipment essential for mission success. Explore our experimental payloads below.

Recent advances in rapid manufacture capabilities will allow the application to satellite structures.  Satellite structures made using rapid manufacture techniques may be made more cost effectively, be able to incorporate structural complexity previously impossible, allow physically complex optimised structures to be developed that reduce mass, reduce component count and increase functionality.

3D printing is a maturing technology. There has been a steady progression of increased resolution, increased speed of production, reduction of unit costs and a widening of material choices. Currently satellite structures are conventionally manufactured predominately using composite structures formed either through hand lay ups or manufactured by CNC techniques.  Regardless the structure configuration tends towards laminar plates with components and other structures attached by numerous secondary structures. By utilizing 3-D printing techniques with aerospace grade materials, load optimised structures with few joins and few parts can be manufactured allowing the production of low mass geometries currently not feasible. The application of this work would be applicable to other mass critical structural designs.

The processing speed, cost and flexibility requirements of future satellite-based applications cannot be satisfied with conventional radiation-hardened processors or custom integrated circuits. SRAM-based Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) provide an opportunity for meeting these requirements with off-the-shelf hardware. The main challenge of using FPGAs for space applications is mitigating the effects of radiation-induced Single Event Upsets (SEUs).

The aim of the two projects supported in part by the Australian Research Council’s Linkage (LP140100328) and Discovery (DP150103866) Projects funding schemes is to develop key technology to enable off-theshelf hardware to be customized for this use without compromising reliability. The projects will develop the design methods needed to implement a given set of satellite applications on a processing platform composed of application-specific soft processors and accelerator circuits hosted on conventional reconfigurable logic devices. Crucially, the solution architecture will be sufficiently hardened against radiation-induced errors to meet reliability targets while satisfying performance and energy use constraints. During the course of these projects, these techniques will be demonstrated and tested in-orbit on the RUSH payload for the UNSW-EC0 CubeSat which is a part of the international QB50 CubeSat program funded by the European Union Framework project.

During 2015 a part-time research was identified and appointed in late 2015 on the LP140100328 project and a full-time researcher was identified and will take up his position early in 2016 on the DP150103866 project. Research work concentrated on the design and reliability aspects of the reconfiguration control network and its performance evaluation. In tandem with this, current research is looking at fault-tolerant reconfiguration network controller design. Research was also undertaken to reduce the overheads associated with using Dynamic Partial Reconfiguration (DPR) to overcome configuration memory errors in TMR systems.

In addition to these, considerable amount of activity has focused on the QB50 RUSH payload design and experiment. The payload board was designed and built while the firmware was developed. The payload supports two configurations, one looking at the efficacy of recovering from radiation-induced SEUs using our proposed modular recovery approach and another which uses the traditional scrubbing approach. The payload has been successfully integrated into the UNSW-EC0 CubeSat bus and has passed the thermal and vacuum environmental tests with flying colours. These will be followed by vibration tests in 2016 and subsequent shipment of the CubeSat for launch to Europe around June 2016.

Contact Dr Ediz Cetin and/or A/Prof Oliver Diessel for further information and research opportunities.

The Kea GPS Payload is a multi-experiment GPS hardware that is designed, built and tested by ACSER,UNSW and General Dynamics NZ. It is one of the first technology demonstration for a single-board GPS receiver that can host multiple experiments.Its customisability allows it to reconfigure itself to perform one of three experiment modes below:

Mode 1:  In-orbit Positioning

This is the main goal of this payload. It will exercise the standard navigation functionality of the Namuru GPS receiver when operating in low earth orbit, with the aim of validating the core receiver functionality and gaining flight heritage for the design. Results from ground-based satellite laser ranging on the spacecraft will also be performed will be used to validate the accuracy of the receiver.

Mode 2: GPS Radio occultation

The Kea GPS receiver listens to the transmissions from GPS satellites. Given their different orbits, the Earth will sometimes come between the two satellites, and its radio signal will have to pass through some of the Earth’s atmosphere before the planet blocks it out completely. The way that the signal fades in the atmosphere can be used to calculate the temperature and pressure along the line connecting the two spacecraft, providing a valuable new source of raw data for weather forecasting. 

Mode 3: GPS Reflectometry

The purpose of the reflectometry experiment is to use the Kea GPS receiver to perform remote sensing using GPS reflectometry. This involves observing GPS specular reflections from the earth’s surface using a custom Left-Hand Circularly Polarised antenna array that will be installed on the nadir face of the CubeSat. Observations from oceans under different sea-state conditions, preferably at locations at which observations from other independent instruments are available can be made, are desirable. Observations from land and perhaps sea-ice can also be made. The experiment data can be used to infer sea-state, wind speed, water-land boundaries and many other unexplored applications.

Technical team

The development of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat is a joint effort by a team of UNSW undergraduate students, postgraduate students, affiliates and staff.

    • Dr. Barnaby Osborne
    • Dr. Joon Wayn Cheong (VK2ECO)
  • Flight Software

    • (Lead) John Chung Lam
    • William Andrews
    • Alex Kroh
    • Benjamin Southwell
    • Shannon Green


    • (Lead) Tom Croston
    • William Huynh
    • John Chung Lam
    • William Andrews

    Attitude Determination and Control

    • (Lead) Benjamin Southwell
    • Tim Broadbent
    • James Bultitude
    • Yiwei Han


    • (Lead) Luyang Li

    UNSW Auxillary Board (EAUX)

    • (Lead) John Chung Lam
    • William Andrews
    • Daniel Sheratt
    • Dr. Joon Wayn Cheong (VK2ECO)
    • Tom Croston
    • Dr. Joon Wayn Cheong (VK2ECO)
    • Dr. Eamonn Glennon
    • Dr Ediz Cetin
    • A/Prof Oliver Diessel
    • Thomas Fisk
    • William Andrew
    • Alex Kroh
    • Benjamin Southwell (VK2ABF)
    • Dr. Joon Wayn Cheong (VK2ECO)
    • William Andrews
    • John Chung Lam
    • Joerick Aligno 
    • Timothy Guo
    • Jannick Habets
    • Jiro Funamoto

UNSW-EC0 In the News

Video & Gallery

CubeSat launcher

Video from the International Space Station of the Nanoracks cubesat launch ‘cannon’ deploying small satellites.