A team led by Professor Hyochoong Bang from the Department of Aerospace Engineering successfully launched Little Intelligent Nanosatellite of KAIST (LINK) aboard the Atlas V booster of the NASA CRS- 7 Mission on April 18.
CubeSats, or small cubic nanosatellites, are effective tools for low-orbit study thanks to their cost- effectiveness and small size: LINK measures 20 cm by 10 cm by 10 cm and weighs only 2 kg, per the specifications of CubeSat dimensions. The CubeSats embarked on a 400 km journey to the International Space Station (ISS) on the Cygnus space module, an automated cargo spacecraft used to regularly resupply ISS.
LINK is one of the 28 satellites part of the QB50 Project funded by the European Commission and operated by The von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics in Belgium. The project aims to observe the thermosphere via low-cost CubeSats equipped with sensors as an international collaboration between 23 countries.
The satellite’s primary payload is an ion-neutral mass spectrometer (INMS), a gauge for the mass of ions and neutral atoms in the atmosphere. The secondary payload consists of two Langmuir probes developed by a team headed by the Department of Physics Professor Kyoung Wook Min from the Space Science Laboratory. The INMS and the probes, which are in-house sensors that measure the electron temperature, density, and potential of plasma, will gather continuous in-situ data in the Earth’s thermosphere for three months.
Professor Bang expressed excitement that CubeSats, which had been used mostly for educational purposes so far, “will take off as valuable instruments in carrying out missions for scientific research” and that “[the QB50 Project] will be the first CubeSat constellation mission in low-orbit that contributes significant data.” He stated, “Further developments of additional CubeSats will allow verification of laboratory results directly in space.”
On April 22, the Cygnus module docked safely on the ISS. The CubeSats now await deployment from the ISS for a month since the docking, after which they will be released into orbit to begin their mission.