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ICUBE-Q: Pakistan’s Lunar CubeSat onboard Chinese Chang’E 6 Mission


Introduction

In 2022, the China National Space Agency (CNSA), through the Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO), offered member states a unique opportunity: to send a student-built payload to the Moon onboard the Chang'e 6 mission. Pakistan's Institute of Space Technology (IST) answered the call with a proposal for a Lunar CubeSat named "ICUBE-Qamar" (ICUBE-Q for short). After a rigorous evaluation process, IST's proposal was selected. The design and development of ICUBE-Q are a collaborative effort between IST faculty and students, Pakistan's national space agency SUPARCO, and China's Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU). IST has a proven track record in CubeSat development, having successfully launched its first CubeSat, ICUBE-1, in 2013.

Mission Overview & Objectives

The project overall consists of three main parts: the CubeSat itself, the separation mechanism (including the power control box), and the mounting bracket. ICUBE-Q weighs approximately 7 kg and carries two optical cameras to image the lunar surface. It also features essential systems for attitude control, thermal management, and deep-space communication. The main mission objectives are as follows:

Primary Mission Success
  • Successful separation of the ICUBE-Q CubeSat into lunar orbit from Chang’e-6 Orbiter
  • Use of the Orbiter camera to record the release process of ICUBE-Q
Secondary Mission Success
  • Successful reception of beacon signal from ICUBE-Q, confirming successful operation of the CubeSat
Tertiary Mission Success
  • Take pictures of the Orbiter, the Earth and the Moon, and try to take pictures of 2 or 3 of the objects (Moon, Earth and Orbiter) together
  • Obtain lunar magnetic field data; establish lunar magnetic field model and lay the foundation for subsequent international cooperation on the Moon.

Technical Details & Subsystems

Design Life: 3 Months

Communication Link:
  • X-Band for both TT &C and imaging data transfer
  • Data rate 1 kbps
Attitude Control:
  • Three axis control using Reaction Wheels, Star sensor and Sun sensors
Power:
  • Battery = 12 V , 11.6 AH
  • Two deployed solar panels

Payload:

  • 2 Cameras, one mega pixels (1280 x 720) mounted on +/- X panels
  • Task: (i) Imaging Lunar Surface (ii) Imaging Earth from Lunar Orbit (iii) Moon and Earth together

Following successful qualification testing at SUPARCO and SJTU, ICUBE-Q has now been integrated with the Chang'e6 orbiter.

The launch of ICUBE-Q  is scheduled in May 2024, marking a significant step in Pakistan's space exploration journey.


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