Inside Al Ain’s new hi-tech space satellite facility

The satellite assembly, integration and testing facility is scheduled to open in October

A new space district will soon open in Al Ain and its first major building will house a satellite assembly, integration and testing facility.

The construction of the facility, located at the National Space Science and Technology Centre (NSSTC) in UAE University, is 90 per cent completed and is expected to go online in October.

It will offer engineers, students and researchers the proper environment and resources to design, develop and test satellites of up to 250 kilograms.

The National took an exclusive tour of NSSTC to learn more about the satellite facility and other projects planned for the space district.

More resources for satellite development

The Satellite Assembly, Integration and Testing (AIT) facility, launched in partnership with Airbus and Tawazun Economic Council, will give engineers the tools needed to build small to medium-sized satellites.

The building will have a 320-square-metre clean room, so assembly can take place in a satellite-friendly environment to protect the spacecraft’s sensitive components.

Two thermal vacuum chambers, a large and a small one, will enable students to test completed satellites and their subsystems in a simulated space environment. The chambers mimic the temperatures and vacuum in space.

A room with a vibration system will offer vibration simulations that satellites encounter during a launch. This test is essential to ensure a satellite is strong enough to withstand rocket launch conditions.

To perform radio frequency and antenna measurements, as well as electromagnetic compatibility tests, the facility has an anechoic chamber. It is an electromagnetic radiation-free environment.

Communicating and tracking satellites will be possible through a ground control room. It will be equipped with a hardware suite and command, control, data and diagnostic software. These will support real-time telemetry monitoring, spacecraft commanding capabilities and telemetry storage of spacecraft operations.

Similar rooms, but in a different size scale, are available at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, which were used to test the KhalifaSat satellite and Mars Hope probe, and track them.

First pan-Arab satellite to be built here

There are three satellites that are going to be built here soon after the facility opens its doors.

The 813 satellite will measure pollution, dust levels and greenhouse gas emissions across the region.

Led by the UAE Space Agency, the project is being carried out by the Arab Space Co-operation Group, which consists of 14 Arab countries.

It is the first time a pan-Arab partnership is taking place in a space-related project.

Two navigation satellites will also be designed, developed and tested at the space centre.

Navigation satellites help make navigation systems in cars and smartphones possible, and play a major role in the aviation and humanitarian sector.

Students to be trained by industry experts

Airline and aerospace manufacturer Airbus will manage the procurement, installation and operational qualification required for the equipment.

Dr Khaled Al Hashmi, director of NSSTC, said Airbus will also be training Emirati students and engineers.

“As part of our partnership, there is a knowledge transfer,” he said.

“We will learn how to set up the machinery, how to do the tests and we will adopt best practices from them – all of that will be very beneficial.”

Twelve Emiratis, who will be the core team of the space centre, will be trained by Airbus.

The new facility will help create 32 new jobs and 22 of them will be for UAE citizens.

The varsity will soon launch a Master’s programme in Space Science and students will get practical training through the new space district.

“You need an ecosystem within the UAE for students as such and this centre will compliment the vision of UAE Space Agency’s strategy and national objective, as it will enable us to do new research and development,” said Dr Al Hashmi

Through the space district, students and scientists will carry out six research projects across different areas related to space science. These include modelling and observation of Mars dust storms, Mars atmospheric data assimilation and studying Earth and Mars’ atmosphere, among others.

A ground-based radio array observatory

Aside from the satellite facility, ground-based radio-arrays will be built in the Space District.

Called the UAEU Radio Astronomy Pathway Project, the 256-element observatory will enable students to carry out projects in radio astronomy, space physics, solar physics and space situational awareness.

It can help with space surveillance and tracking and monitoring resident space objects for UAE’s space traffic management.

The ground radio antennas can also be used for high-impact research as part of a global network of observatories for international experiments, as well as be used as an individual source.

Scientists combine data from ground-based radio arrays in different parts of the world for new discoveries and in-depth studies of black holes and other phenomenon in the universe.