Launching UiTM to the satellite arena

Syazana Basyirah Mohammad Zaki (left) and Muhammad Hasif Azami at Laboratory of Spacecraft Environmental Interaction Engineering (LaSeine) Kyushu Institute of Technology, Japan.

JUST barely a month ago, postgraduate students Syazana Basyirah Mohammad Zaki and Muhammad Hasif Azami witnessed the launch of their nanosatellite, UiTMSAT-1, to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the SpaceX CRS-15 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida,the United States.

Two other nanosatellites, from the Philippines and Bhutan — MAYA-1 and BHUTAN-1 — were also launched.

And last week, these three nanosatellites were deployed from the ISS into orbit by using the Japanese experimental module, named Kibo, on Aug 10 at 5.45pm Malaysian time.

The communication between Universiti Teknologi MARA’s (UiTM) satellite ground station and UiTMSAT-1 was expected to be established within the first 24 hours, which would be the most critical hours for the team.

UITM ground station received the first acquisition signal from the nanosatellite on Aug 11 at 10.20am.

The chosen orbit for the nanosatellites is approximately 400km in altitude with 51.6∫ inclination. These nanosatellites are to be operated within 10 participating ground stations around the world and the communication to and from the ground stations will use amateur radio frequency bands (very high frequency and ultra-high frequency bands).

Syazana, who works on the “Measurement of Magnetic Field” by Anisotropic Magneto Resistance Magnetometer, said there were many challenges when designing and developing the nanosatellite, but the biggest challenge was the time limit.

She said although each of the 10 team members were given specific and critical tasks in the development of all three nanosatellites, it was still a race against time.

“We had meetings twice a day towards the end of the project. We didn’t have any weekends for time off,” she said.

She said they had less than 15 months to design and develop their nanosatellite and was working almost every day in the laboratory.

“It was a long and tedious process, where each component had to be tested to ensure it could withstand the harsh conditions of outer space. Factors such as temperature, stability (due to the strong vibrations during the rocket launch) and zero gravity had to be taken into account. The nanosatellite also had to be assembled in a clean room to make sure there are no dust particles on it.”

She couldn’t hide her excitement and was grateful for the opportunity to learn and be part of the process of building a nanosatellite.

Syazana also hoped many more contributions and collaborations can be carried out among other countries.

“I realised that many students at Malaysian universities are interested in Space Engineering but lack of opportunities to study them. Hopefully in the future, UiTM will become the hub for training these students, of course, with the support from various parties and agencies,” said Syazana, adding that she will continue learning and improving her skills.

Researchers at the Centre for Satellite Communication at Engineering Faculty in UiTM Shah Alam.

For Hasif, he was definitely feeling nervous during the rocket launch and also last week’s deployment event, which was the most crucial part.

Responsible for the “Earth Imaging Camera Mission”, Hasif also said the most challenging and unforgettable part was being away from his family as they both had to work in the lab for almost ‘24 hours, seven days’ throughout the project.

“We hope that UiTM will continue their support in our next project to expand the nanosatellite. The knowledge we gained should not stop here but carry on until our mission is fulfilled,” he added.

Both postgraduate students, with Syazana pursuing her doctorate and Hasif for his master’s degree, were sent to the Kyushu Institute of Technology under a special scholarship given by the Education Ministry.

UiTM participated in a programme called Joint Global Multi-nation BIRDS-2 Project, which is an international collaboration between Japan and two other countries, Bhutan and the Philippines.

The BIRDS-2 project started in November 2016.

In this project, 10 postgraduate students – three from Japan, the Philippines (2), Bhutan (3) and Malaysia (2) — developed and tested three identical nanosatellites or CubeSats, at the Laboratory of Spacecraft Environmental Interaction Engineering (LaSeine), Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech), Japan.

The main objective of this project is to expose the participants to the state-of-the-arts and provide them with a comprehensive hands-on experience in developing nanosatellites.

The BIRDS-2 collaboration project also led to establishment of the Centre for Satellite Communication at the Faculty of Engineering in UiTM Shah Alam on Aug 10, last year.

According to director Associate Professor Dr Mohamad Huzaimy Jusoh, this centre carries out research work on satellite communication and space science that contributes to the nation’s development.

“With the launch of the nanosatellite and earth station operations, UiTM will be visible to the entire world in the satellite and space arena. This project is creating history in this country in the academic and research fields as UiTM becomes the first Malaysian university to launch the nanosatellites into space,” said Huzaimy.

The centre aims to become the nation’s hub for communications satellite research and similar fields, as well as in the training and consultation areas with industry collaborations.

“The BIRDS-2 project indeed opens up various opportunities in the technological, educational and commercial aspects towards progress for Malaysia,” said Huzaimy.


By: Zulita Mustafa