International Space Station places UAE-Bahraini satellite Light-1 into orbit

The miniature satellite will measure harmful radiation above thunderstorms

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A UAE-Bahraini nanosatellite has been released into orbit to begin its mission of studying charged particles above thunderstorms that release harmful levels of radiation.

The Light-1 satellite was sent to the International Space Station in December, but was released into its target orbit by a Japanese spacecraft on Thursday.

An airlock on the station opened that allowed Japan’s Kibo instrument, which held the nanosat, to attach itself to a robotic arm outside the floating laboratory.

The structure then moved farther out into space and safely released the nanosat.

Now, the satellite will begin studying the charged particles, known as terrestrial gamma ray flashes (TGF).

Students at New York University Abu Dhabi and Khalifa University built the nanosat. The team included nine Bahrainis and 14 Emiratis.

It is a joint project by the UAE Space Agency and Bahrain’s National Space Science Agency.

Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad, commander of Bahrain’s Royal Guard and secretary general of the Supreme Defence Council, congratulated the UAE and Bahrain on the successful orbit insertion.

“It’s the first Bahraini space mission in collaboration with our brothers in the United Arab Emirates, contributing to the progress in the space field and emphasising the kingdom’s determination and his majesty’s vision in this prominent field.

“Light-1 marks a milestone in our history as a successful step forward for our kingdom's space efforts and paving the way for Bahrain’s space ambitions.

"I believe we have now proven we possess all the resources and talents necessary to expand upcoming space missions. We look forward to the future with a keen eye.”

What will it study?

Light-1 will measure TGFs and their potency, as well as determine how they are generated and how long they last.

These flashes are extremely powerful and can endanger aircraft passengers, exposing them to the equivalent of 400 chest X-rays in just one flash.

They also interfere with aircraft electronics and could put passengers and crew at risk.

TGFs were accidently discovered by space scientists at Nasa in 1992 when carrying out studies about cosmic gamma-ray flashes, which occur outside Earth’s atmosphere.

UAE-Bahraini satellite delivered to International Space Station

UAE-Bahraini satellite delivered to International Space Station

They are created above thunderclouds, last only a few milliseconds and escape into the atmosphere.

Very few missions have been launched to study TGFs and there is limited data on them.

The European Space Agency’s Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor mission has been studying the phenomenon since 2018.

Francesco Arneodo, a physics professor at New York University Abu Dhabi Centre for Astro, Particle and Planetary Physics, hopes to combine Light-1 data with other missions studying the bursts.

He said it would help to create an improved model of how these gamma-ray bursts are generated.

“In the past 20 years, there have been satellite missions that were designed to study bursts of gamma rays that are generated in galaxies, but there have been only a few missions that study bursts coming from Earth,” he said.

“The exact mechanism of generation is not very well understood. There are a few models that explain it, but none that pinpoint the exact cause.”

UAE-Bahraini ties

Light-1 has been named after King Hamad's first book, called The First Light, which recounts Bahrain’s history.

Sarah Al Amiri, UAE Minister of State for Advanced Sciences and chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, said the satellite was a milestone for Emirati-Bahraini ties.

“It reflects our efforts to exchange knowledge and expertise to stimulate cutting-edge research, scientific discoveries and human progress," she said.

"I would also like to thank Khalifa University and NYU Abu Dhabi for providing their world-class facilities to train the team who worked on this landmark scientific endeavour.

"Capacity-building is a vital part of our efforts to stimulate our knowledge-driven economy and both universities have played a key role in empowering the next generation of talent.”

Updated: February 03, 2022, 10:40 AM