Aalto-2 satellite goes into orbit to measure the thermosphere


The small satellites will be deployed from the International Space Station on 23 May.


Aalto-2 launch event took place in Otaniemi 18 April. Photo: Mikko Raskinen / Aalto University

Aalto-2, which was launched into space on 18 April from Florida, is nearing the second stage of its journey. The satellite will be deployed into orbit on 23 May at 14.30 (GMT+2).

‘The astronauts at the International Space Station will film the deployment, so we’ll see the Aalto-2 satellite once more before we start waiting to receive the signal that it sends,’ says Professor Jaan Praks, who leads Aalto’s satellite projects.

Aalto-2 and other small satellites are part of the international QB50 Mission, the aim of which is to produce the first ever comprehensive model of the features of the thermosphere, the layer between the Earth's atmosphere and space. Because Aalto-2 is part of a larger project, it will be registered in Belgium in the same way as the project’s other satellites in order to simplify the permit procedures.

The first signal sent by Aalto-2 will probably be heard via an ground station located somewhere other than Otaniemi. The satellite’s orbit is close to the equator, so it can only be contacted occasionally from Otaniemi.

The deployment of small satellites from the International Space Station can be watched live on the NASA website. 

‘Several ground stations from around the world are involved in the mission, and the information sent by the satellites will be shared by all the stations. The first signal may arrive within a few days of deployment,’ estimates Petri Niemelä who is in charge of Aalto University’s ground station in Otaniemi.


Illustration of Aalto-2. Photo: Aalto University

Aalto-2’s journey into space has gone through many phases. After its launch on 18 April, the International Space Station robot arm received the Cygnus cargo spacecraft carrying Aalto-2 and dozens of other small satellites at 13.05 Finnish time on 22 April. The cargo spacecraft was then installed in the Station’s Unity module in the docking port facing Earth.

‘After deployment, we’ll have to hold our breath for a few days to see whether Aalto-2 is able to carry out the scientific work planned for it,’ states Praks.

'Aalto-2 is carrying the multi-Needle Langmuir Probe (mNLP) payload developed at the University of Oslo for the measurement of plasma characteristics.

The deployment of small satellites from the International Space Station can be watched live on the NASA website.

You can also follow the deployment on Tuesday in Aalto satellites’ Twitter (twitter.com/aaltoone) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/AaltoSatellites).

Aalto's other nanosatellite, Aalto-1, will be launched from India with a PSLV rocket in the first week of June.

Further information about Aalto’s satellite projects (spacecraft.aalto.fi)
Further information about the launch of the Aalto-1 satellite (aalto1.fi)

Video: What is Aalto-2 and what does it do? (youtube.com)
Video: How are CubeSats – like Aalto-2 – deployed from the International Space Station? (youtube.com)

Further information:
Jaan Praks
Professor, project director
Aalto University
tel. +358 (0)50 420 5847

Petri Niemelä
responsible for the ground station in Otaniemi, Espoo
Aalto University
p. 358 (0)50 400 4246

QB50 project has received funding from TEKES and the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development under grant agreement no [284427]. This publication reflects the views only of the authors, and the European Union cannot be held responsible for any use which maybe made of the information contained therein.