Abu Dhabi students are putting their career plans into orbit - after teaming up to launch their very own satellite.
A team of about 20 students at Khalifa University of Science and Technology have been working since 2015 to design the MYSAT-1, a nano-satellite which is set to soar into space this November.
The hi-tech device is the first to be built at the Yahsat Space Lab in Masdar City, a collaboration between the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, part of Khalifa University of Science and Technology, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (formerly Orbital ATK) and Al Yahsat Satellite Communications Company and Orbital ATK.
The nano-satellite, weighing 1.3kg, has been developed by students enrolled in the Space Systems and Technology Masters in Engineering degree at the university.
It is all set for lift-off in November from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), and will serve educational and research purposes.
Dr Prashanth Marpu, associate professor of space system at Khalifa University, said the objective of the satellite is a combination of education and research.
"We are in line with UAE’s space mission. We are producing talent for the space industry. This was the first graduate level programme for space education in the region. The goal is to support the space industry here. We are training them from scratch and when they graduate, they will be ready to get involved in the space programmes in the UAE," said Dr Marpu.
“The main thing about this programme is that it is a multi-disciplinary programme. You need people from different disciplines to work on space systems. We recruited people from different engineering programmes and brought them together and made them work on building a satellite," he added.
The objective of the satellite is primarily educational and the professor hopes that in the future, students will build satellites weighting 50 kg or 100 kg with specific scientific missions.
The first satellite is carrying a unique battery developed at the lab.
“The idea of the battery is developed at Khalifa University. The chemical composition is unique and ensures it has high capacity and a long discharge rate. It’s behaving very well in the lab conditions but we are waiting to test how it performs in space,” said Dr Marpu.
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Students who built the satellite visit schools and tell students about their work. School and college students from all over UAE intern at the lab.
The ‘engineering model’ of MYSAT-1, an exact replica of the flight satellite model was built and tested for space environment conditions.
MYSAT-1’s payload consists of a camera designed to take images of the UAE from space to demonstrate the process of remote sensing.
Mahool Al Hammadi has recently completed her masters degree in computer science at Khalifa University and worked on MYSAT-1.
"We don’t have a background in space engineering or industry or space engineering. We came from different specialties and started learning during the project, so we can lead future UAE space missions. We started learning how to control sensors on board satellites and testing lithium-ion batteries. We are more interested in this specialisation now,” said the Emirati student.
Hoda Al Yammahi, a 26-year-old Master’s graduate in computer science, said many undergraduate students and high school students have approached her to know more about her work.
Fatama Al Shehhi, 24-year-old Emirati electrical and computer engineering student said she enjoyed the first-hand experience of building the satellite. She is working on the next satellite that is a continuation of the work done on MySat-1
“After this experience we can add more to the space industry,” she said.
Abdulla Al Mesmari, 23-year-old Emirati mechanical engineering student worked on the satellite for a year and a half.
“Space is a new industry in UAE so it’s difficult for us to start working on complicated missions. Therefore, we have to start from the basics, educate ourselves and the next generations. When working on a satellite you work in a team and learn different majors," said Al Mesmari.
“We also go to high schools and lecture them. They all want to become space engineers now,” he said.
The Yahsat Space Lab was launched in 2017 at Masdar Institute to develop and advance technologies within the space sector in line with the UAE’s space ambitions.
The UAE's astronaut programme is progressing and nine are now being considered from the more than 4,000 initial applicants. One of the final four will be sent to the International Space Station.