QB50 is a research project run by the European Union. The goal of the project is to carry out in-situ atmospheric research in the lower thermosphere (200-380km).

In the past, atmospheric research at this altitude would be carried out by “atmospheric explorer” satellites in highly elliptical orbits, or rockets, but these options only grant a few tens of minutes in the desired area.

QB50 will launch a flock of 50 2U or 3U CubeSats which will stay in the required altitude for a number of months.

The satellites each have one of three sensors: a Ion-Neutral Mass Spectrometer to measure the types of gases; a Flux-Φ-Probe Experiment to measure the behavior of atomic oxygen; or a multi-Needle Langmuir Probe to measure the density of plasma found in the layer.

A small number of CubeSats serve as a platform for testing the capability of various technologies to operate in orbit. These satellites carry a unique payload instead of the three sensors mentioned above, and will test these new payloads’ ability to function in space.

An additional goal of the project is advancing the field of space and satellite education and as such all the satellites in the project were built by universities and research institutions around the globe, as well as the Herzliya Science Center, which is the only high school group participating.