Thursday 17 December 2015

6 Singapore satellites blast off into space

Milestone for Singapore as six satellites launch into orbit
Republic's first commercial earth observation satellite among six sent into space from India
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent and Nirmala Ganapathy, In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2015

While Singaporeans got ready to settle down for the night, in India, a milestone was crossed.

At 8.48pm last night, the first commercial earth observation satellite from Singapore was launched into space orbit. Three minutes later, five smaller satellites were released, to take the Republic closer to fulfilling its ambitions of conquering the final frontier.

Riding on a rocket owned by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the six made-in-Singapore satellites blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh at about 8.30pm, to claps and cheers from scientists present.

Monitoring it was Singapore's chief defence scientist Quek Tong Boon and senior researchers.

Released from ISRO's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C29), the satellites will now hover about 550km above ground near the equator for up to five years.

Calling it a "golden launch", Dr P. Kunhikrishnan, director of the space centre, noted it was the 50th launch from Andhra Pradesh, as well as Singapore's 50th anniversary, and the 50th year of bilateral cooperation between India and Singapore. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also congratulated ISRO for the successful launch in a tweet.

The satellites were built by teams from defence manufacturer Singapore Technologies Electronics (ST Electronics), Singapore-based space technology firm Microspace Rapid, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

The biggest among them, built by a team made up of scientists from ST Electronics, DSO National Laboratories and NTU, is the 400kg earth observation satellite, TeLEOS-1. Carrying a camera that can take pictures at ground resolution of up to 1m, the satellite can conduct surveillance missions for maritime and border security. It can last up to five years.

The other smaller satellites, built by NUS, NTU and Microspace Rapid, will be used for tropical environmental monitoring and remote sensing.

The launch comes four years after Singapore put its first home-grown micro-satellite, X-SAT, in space. Smaller satellites have also been launched by NTU.

Thanking ISRO's staff for their efforts, Mr Quek said the new satellites would allow Singapore to test its capabilities and reap the benefits from space technology.

ST Electronics president Lee Fook Sun said the successful launch capped a "very intensive and challenging phase" to design and build the satellite from scratch, giving engineers confidence to build more advanced satellites.

The latest developments will boost Singapore's space aspirations, which were laid out in 2013 when the Government opened the Office for Space Technology and Industry (OSTIn) under the Economic Development Board. OSTIn's mission is to plan and execute economic strategies to grow Singapore's nascent space and satellite industry.

The US-based non-profit research organisation Space Foundation said the global space economy grew 27 per cent from 2008 to US$314 billion (S$442 billion) in 2013. Experts here say that the space industry - and small-satellites field, in particular - are a natural fit for land-scarce and talent focused Singapore.

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Singapore satellites make contact with researchers
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2015

They may not be in a galaxy far, far away, but the force seems to be with all six made-in-Singapore satellites now orbiting Earth. They have made contact with researchers on the ground, and their missions are under way.

One particularly bold experiment eventually seeks to allow small, low-orbit satellites to relay data or beam back images any time or anywhere from space.

This has not been done by any satellite orbiting at a height of less than 2,000km above ground, said Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Its VELOX-II and VELOX-CI satellites are orbiting Earth a mere 550km above ground.

Professor Low Kay Soon, who heads the university's Satellite Research Centre, said his team is also running tests on the satellites' Global Positioning System to enable researchers to get a group of satellites to "fly" in formation.

"In formation flying, we have to know the exact position of each satellite to prevent collision and also to perform actions that require coordination, such as taking images with different angles simultaneously," said Prof Low, who arrived in Singapore yesterday after witnessing the launch in India.

Besides NTU, defence manufacturer Singapore Technologies Electronics (ST Electronics), space technology firm Microspace Rapid and the National University of Singapore also said they had established contact with their satellites.

Microspace Rapid, which built Athenoxat-1, said the nanosatellite has started beaming back images.

ST Electronics, which joined hands with DSO National Laboratories and NTU to build the TeLEOS-1, said it will conduct tests to ensure the satellite can beam back its first commercial images by the middle of next year. It said TeLEOS-1 provides "vast business opportunities" that can be applied to maritime security and disaster relief operations.

The Office for Space Technology and Industry was set up two years ago to grow Singapore's space industry. Its executive director Beh Kian Teik said the launch had established Singapore's credibility in small-satellite engineering.

NUS team pushes space frontier with first satellite

Cancelled flight to India nearly scuttles project, one of six Singapore satellites launched
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2015

National University of Singapore (NUS) systems engineer Eugene Ee was due to be in India to make the final crucial tweaks to a satellite just days before its launch on Wednesday night.

But the 26-year-old nearly missed the chance after his flight from Singapore to Chennai on Dec 5 was cancelled due to an airport closure. Without him, however, the university might not be able to send its first satellite into orbit.

A last-minute scramble for a flight to Bangalore and a bumpy nine-hour drive later, Mr Ee arrived at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh, India, much to the relief of his two team members and professor.

"I tried to keep calm and cool on the flight. But when I got there, I was just too exhausted to start work immediately," he said.

Early the next morning, he began work on Galassia, one of the six Singapore-made satellites that were successfully launched.

The experimental cube-satellite was developed by some 30 engineering undergraduates and research engineers over four years.

One of its missions is to measure the total number of electrons in the ionosphere, a region of the earth's upper atmosphere. The data collected would help improve the accuracy of Global Positioning System navigation and radio communications in space.

After he returned to Singapore on Dec 11, it was a roller coaster of emotions yet again when launch day came around, recalled Mr Ee.

"We were calm until they started showing the live launch video. We saw the rocket going up, and then it was in orbit," he said, as he watched from the team's lab on campus.

As the other satellites started their separation process, he held his breath till the words "Galassia separation" flashed on the screen.

He said, laughing: "My colleague and I had integrated the satellite in India and connected the cables between the satellite deployer and the launch rocket. If it didn't appear, it was going to be our fault."

Cheers erupted once they heard the first beacon from the satellite at about 10.18pm, confirming that it had established contact.

"That moment was emotional for me," said hardware engineer Ajie Nayaka Nikicio, 22, who had practised tracking other satellites and receiving data from them.

There is often no guarantee that a satellite would make a good pass over Singapore as it would depend on the duration and elevation, he said. A pass is when the satellite appears in view, allowing the ground station to make contact with it.

He said: "It was really wonderful that we communicated with the Galassia the first time it passed over Singapore."

Said Professor Goh Cher Hiang, the project director at the NUS Satellite Programme: "A lot of people don't realise that the satellite is 550km away. So for it to respond when you 'talk' to it, that's truly amazing. And if you can do it in the first pass, that is the best."

Both research engineers had been working on the satellite since they were undergraduates.

Their work will be validated when they collect the first primary data from space. For the NUS team, Galassia is the first step towards pushing the frontiers of space, hopefully to fulfil their dream of one day taking on lunar missions.

Stars align for launch of NTU's satellites

By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2015

Ms Chin Shi Tong applied for a job at a satellite research centre two years ago as the post was aligned with her interest in algorithms.

Two years later, with the stars aligned in her favour, the research engineer this week found herself watching the launch of space satellites that she had a hand in making.

The 25-year-old aerospace engineering graduate of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) had embarked on a space adventure after joining her alma mater's Satellite Research Centre.

There, she worked on three satellites, including the GPS mission planning for the Velox-C1 micro-satellite, which aims to get data to study Asia's tropical climate.

Velox-CI, together with the Velox-II, are NTU's fifth and sixth satellites since it started its satellite programme in 2009. Velox-II is the world's first low-orbit satellite, capable of relaying data any time and anywhere in space.

Both were successfully launched at India's Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Wednesday evening.

Ms Chin watched the launch from Singapore, and said it brought her a mix of excitement and relief, as she went through a fair share of scares in preparing the satellites.

"Once, while going through a test cycle, we found out that one of the resistors had been soldered the wrong way," she said. "It was only after looking through all the boards and drawings that we were able to find the cause of the problem."

The team also had to grapple with issues that surfaced only after the satellites were put through extreme temperatures and tolerance levels.

"But nearing the launch (date), we were confident because we knew we had done all the necessary tests, yet at the same time, (we were) cautious because it is always going to be unpredictable in space," said research engineer Htet Aung, 29, who is part of the Velox-II team.

Research engineer Abhishek Rai, 26, who designed the electric components for the Velox-II, said: "Once the satellite is launched, you cannot recall it and so your design has to be robust. Waiting to hear the satellite's first signal was nerve-racking."

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