Minimize QARMAN

QARMAN (QubeSat for Aerothermodynamic Research and Measurements on AblatioN)

Launch    Reentry test     References

QARMAN is a 3U CubeSat mission, led and built by the Von Karman Institute (VKI), Belgium for ESA. The objective of the mission is to demonstrate reentry technologies, particularly novel heatshield materials, new passive aerodynamic drag and attitude stabilization systems, and the transmission of telemetry data during reentry via data relay satellites in low-Earth orbit. 1)

QARMAN will incorporate an ablative Thermal Protection System (TPS) to the structure to protect the CubeSat from extreme heating during reentry. Similarly, the side panels will be thermally insulated with appropriate TPS for a prolonged functionality of the subsystems. It will also demonstrate the use of a passive de-orbiting system and also the possibility of non-powered rendezvous.


Figure 1: Illustration of the deployed QARMAN CubeSat (image credit: VKI)

Designed and manufactured for ESA by Belgium's Von Karman Institute, QARMAN will use temperature and pressure sensors together with an emission spectrometer to gather precious data on the extreme conditions of reentry as its leading edges are enveloped in scorching plasma.

QARMAN is the world's first CubeSat designed to survive atmospheric re-entry. The QARMAN project, funded by the European Space Agency, started in 2013 at the von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics (VKI). QARMAN is due to be deployed from the International Space Station in 2019. It will orbit Earth for around four months before reentering the atmosphere. It will survive reentry but not its fall to Earth. Instead its data will be transmitted to Iridium telecom satellites.

The aim of the QARMAN mission is to demonstrate the usability of a CubeSat platform as an atmospheric entry vehicle. Spacecraft descending towards a planet with an atmosphere experience very harsh environment including extreme temperatures (several thousand degrees). Such vehicles have special shields to survive these harsh conditions as will QARMAN. After the success of the mission, different entry vehicle configurations (for example using different thermal protection materials) can be tested on board at very low costs for scientific exploration and qualification of future missions in order to provide valuable real flight data. In the long-term, QARMAN successors could also be used as Blackbox to study how materials and satellites degrades when re-entering the atmosphere, in order to reduce the debris falling back on Earth.

A few weeks after reaching the ISS, QARMAN will be deployed into Space and start its mission. All operations will be performed from the VKI ground station. The first weeks will be dedicated to commissioning the subsystems and verifying the good health of QARMAN. Solar panels will then be deployed to increase the drag, thus decelerate QARMAN and initiate its re-entry. After a few months in orbit, the beginning of the re-entry phase will be automatically detected by QARMAN, triggering the data acquisition. Maximum 18 minutes later, the reentry phase is over and data are communicated through Iridium before the final crash of QARMAN. The satellite will not be recovered, but no worries: the casualty risk has been carefully assessed and demonstrated to comply with all international regulations!


Figure 2: Some QARMAN images during the development process (image credit: VKI)

Launch: The QARMAN CubeSat was launched as a secondary payload on the SpX CRS-19 (Commercial Resupply-19) Dragon mission to the ISS on 5 December 2019 (17:29:24 UTC). SpaceX launched its CRS-19 mission from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. 2)

ESA's latest space mission has reached orbit. The QARMAN CubeSat flew to space aboard SpaceX's Dragon launched from Florida, USA, on Thursday 5 December, ahead of a planned rendezvous with the International Space Station on Sunday 8 December. From there, QARMAN - seen in Figure 4 during plasma wind tunnel testing – will be deployed into space in late January 2020. 3)

Secondary payloads: The following ELaNa 25B and 28 technology and demonstration missions were launched on this resupply flight, plus QARMAN of ESA.

AzTechSat-1. A 1U CubeSat technology demonstration developed by UPAEP (Universidad Popular Autonoma del Estado de Puebla) in Puebla, Mexico, that will use the low-Earth orbit satellite constellation Globalstar for satellite phone and low-speed data communications. — Note: The AzTechSat-1 mission is described in a separate file on the eoPortal.

CryoCube-1. A 3U CubeSat developed at NASA/KSC to perform cryogenic fluid management experiments. The 3U Cubesat features deployable solar arrays, which double as a solar heat shield. A second deployable heat shield will block earth's infrared radiation. Active doors will expose the cryogenic oxygen tank to space during eclipse phases.

SORTIE (Scintillation Observations and Response of The Ionosphere to Electrodynamics). The SORTIE 6U CubeSat mission is led by ASTRA LLC (Atmospheric & Space Technology Research Associates). The team is composed of ASTRA, COSMIAC, AFRL, University of Texas at Dallas and Boston College. COSMIAC will be the satellite integrator. The mission is to collect data over the course of 6 months, which will allow scientists to describe the distribution of wave-like structures in the plasma density of the ionospheric F-region and to connect these variations to wave sources in the troposphere and in the high latitude thermosphere. — Note: The SORTIE mission is described in a separate file on the eoPortal.

CIRiS (Compact Infrared Radiometer in Space). A 6U CubeSat of USU (Utah State University), Logan, UT. The objective is to raise the technology readiness level of the new uncooled detector and carbon nanotube source from level 5 to 6, enabling future reduced cost missions to study the hydrologic cycle, characterization of ocean/atmosphere interactions vegetation and land use management. The IR radiometer features a spectral range from 7-13 µm. — Note: The CIRiS mission is described in a separate file on the eoPortal.

EdgeCube. A 1U CubeSat of Sonoma State University. The objective is to take global measurements of the red edge that monitors a sharp change in leaf reflectance in the range 680 - 750 nm from changes in vegetation chlorophyll absorption and mesophyll scattering due to seasonal leaf phenology or stress. The payload consists of six pairs of photo-sensors and filters that are pointed normal to the spin axis to scan the Earth.

QARMAN. A 3U CubeSat of ESA, designed and built by VKI (Von Karman Institute), Brussels, Belgium. The objective of the mission is to demonstrate reentry technologies, particularly novel heatshield materials, new passive aerodynamic drag and attitude stabilization systems, and the transmission of telemetry data during reentry via data relay satellites in low-Earth orbit. — Note: The QARMAN is is described in a separate file on the eoPortal.

Dragon will join three other spacecraft currently at the station. On 8 December (Sunday), ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA flight engineer Drew Morgan will man the space station's Canadian-built robot arm to capture the Dragon supply ship. The robotic arm will position the Dragon spacecraft on the station's Harmony module, where astronauts will open hatches and begin unpacking the cargo inside the supply ship's internal compartment.


Reentry test of the QARMAN CubeSat

Equipped with a cork-based heatshield, titanium side walls and silicon carbide deployable panels, the QARMAN CubeSat survived six and a half minutes of testing inside Italy's Scirocco Plasma Wind Tunnel. 4)

An arc jet using up to 70 MW of power – enough to light up a town of 80,000 people – converted air into hot plasma at temperatures of several thousand degrees Celsius, which sped towards QARMAN at seven times the speed of sound.

Figure 3: Reentry CubeSat's plasma wind tunnel testing (video credit: CIRA)

"This test marked the world premiere in arc jet testing of a complete, full-scale spacecraft," explains test engineering group leader Eduardo Trifoni. "It also represents a tremendous step forward in our ground testing, since up to now only single components were tested at a time."

"The precious outcome of this test gives us confidence that the QARMAN design will indeed make it through the reentry phase," said project leader Davide Masutti of the Von Karman Institute. "The results of the real flight are now the missing element to consolidate our design strategy based on ground-testing, numerical models and flight data."


Figure 4: ESA's next CubeSat mission seen enduring the scorching heat of simulated atmospheric reentry inside the world's largest plasma wind tunnel [image credit: CIRA (Centro Italiano Ricerche Aerospaziali)]

1) "Imminent Launch of the nano-satellite QARMAN to the International Space Station," VKI, 27 November 2019, URL:

2) "SpaceX Dragon Heads to Space Station With NASA Science," NASA News, 5 December 2019, URL:

3) "New reentry CubeSat in orbit," ESA, 6 December 2019, URL:

4) "Reentry test of QARMAN CubeSat," ESA, 21 June 2018, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

Launch    Reentry test     References    Back to top