Three Australian research satellites – two of them built at the University of New South Wales in Sydney – will be launched to the International Space Station this year and deployed into orbit to explore the little-understood region above Earth known as the thermosphere.
The trio is part of an international project known as QB50, which will see a total of 50 small satellites – known as cubesats and weighing just a kilo each – carry out the most extensive measurements ever undertaken of the region between 200 and 380 km above Earth.
This region is poorly understood and hard to measure. And yet, it’s the interface between our planet and space. It’s where much of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from the Sun collides with the Earth, and generates auroras and potential hazards that can affect power grids and communications.