DUBAI // The UAE's first government satellite is preparing to open its eyes. The DubaiSat-1 Earth-observing satellite, launched last Wednesday from a missile silo in Kazakhstan, has spent its first days in orbit 680km above the planet checking systems and preparing for its mission.
Yesterday, the UAE engineers behind the satellite said it was calibrating its high-resolution camera and preparing to beam back its first images. "We hope to begin sending the first test images from the satellite to the ground station in the next few days," said the project engineer Salem al Marri. "We hope that we can start sending photographs sometime after that; very soon - hopefully within the next few weeks or month."
Mr al Marri said the tests, run from the mission control station in Dubai, would ensure that photographs sent back to Earth would be in sharp focus and accurately display the different colours of the land. The launch was the culmination of more than three years' work by a team from the Emirates Institution of Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) to design and build the satellite and receiver station. The programme's total cost was more than US$50 million (Dh180m).
DubaiSat-1 travels at about 27,000kph, completing 14 revolutions of the Earth and passing over Dubai four or five times each day for only a brief period each time - giving engineers a limited amount of time to receive data from the delicate equipment. Mr al Marri said that once all the systems were operational and the satellite was beaming back regular images, the team would publish images monthly of the UAE seen from space on the EIAST website.
Mohamed al Ghanim, chairman of the EIAST board, spoke yesterday for the first time since the launch, discussing the significance of the project. "The importance of the successful launch of DubaiSat-1 into space cannot be emphasised enough," he said. "The launch of DubaiSat-1 comes at a time when the UAE is witnessing an unprecedented period of development at all levels, therefore giving a powerful impetus and stimulus to this process."
"The successful launch of DubaiSat-1 is a dream realised," he added. "It is the result of months of challenges, planning and dedication right up until the day of implementation, which was a wondrous success." The director general of EIAST, Ahmed al Mansoori, said: "It is indeed a landmark achievement and a huge leap for the UAE's science and technology initiatives. "We are proud to state that the UAE has established its own imprint in space research and technologies. This will enable us to provide beneficial solutions that will benefit the nation as well as mankind."
The 200kg satellite, which was built over the course of two years by Emirati and Korean scientists, was fired into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan. Although only around 30 per cent of DubaiSat-1 was built by Emiratis, its two successors, DubaiSat-2 and DubaiSat-3, will be built by staff in the UAE. The craft will beam back detailed images of the land and waterways of the UAE, which will be used for applications including disaster management and urban planning.
Images will be available for use by all Government institutions once they are beamed back to Earth. Among the uses will be predicting sandstorms and assessing the quality of water in the region, including the effect of waste on marine life. The satellite was originally scheduled to launch in the last quarter of last year, but was hit by a series of delays. It will have a minimum lifespan of five years.