Foray into space

17 December 2015 | General News
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NUS launched two satellites into space on 16 December (Photo: ISRO)

The University launched its first satellites successfully into space from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andra Pradesh, India on 16 December at 8.30pm (Singapore time). Designed and built by NUS students, researchers and faculty, Galassia and Kent Ridge 1 were among six Singapore satellites deployed by the polar satellite launch vehicle of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) into a near-equatorial orbit.

This launch is special because it is the 50th from Andra Pradesh, and takes place 50 years after Singapore’s independence. It also commemorates 50 years of bilateral cooperations between Singapore and India. 

Professor Chua Kee Chaing, Dean of NUS Engineering, said, “The successful deployment of NUS’ first two satellites — Galassia and Kent Ridge 1 — in space is a proud moment for all of us and a remarkable endeavour by NUS faculty, researchers and students. Achieving this quantum leap in space R&D is an excellent demonstration of NUS’ strong capabilities in engineering and satellite technologies. The joint launch of six Singapore satellites into space is also a great celebration of Singapore’s Golden Jubilee, marking the significant progress of Singapore’s nascent space industry.”

Both satellites will fly 550 kms above Earth on an orbital plane that has an inclination of about 15 degrees. The near-equatorial orbit of these two satellites will provide high revisit rates for ground operations. A satellite’s revisit rate indicates how often it passes over the same on point on Earth.

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NUS Research Engineers prepping Galassia, which will be ejected from within the blue cubesat deployer at the pre-programmed time for separation (Photo: ISRO)

Galassia, a 2-kg nanosatellite, was developed by students and researchers from NUS Engineering; Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (CRISP); and Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT). Together with six research engineers, 30 final-year engineering students pursuing the Satellite System Design track under the Design-Centric Programme contributed to the development of the experimental cube-satellite over a period four years, beginning in 2012.

The satellite is carrying two payloads. The first is a quantum science payload to test out quantum-based communication concepts using Small Photon-Entangling Quantum System developed and flown for the first time by CQT. The second is a Total Electron Content electronic payload, designed by NUS Engineering students, to measure the total number of electrons above Singapore in the ionosphere, which could be used to improve GPS navigation and radio communication. Data from Galassia will be collected and analysed over the satellite’s operational mission life, which is expected to be between six to 12 months.

Professor Goh Cher Hiang, Project Director of the NUS Satellite Programme at NUS Engineering, said, “The Galassia project brings together students from various engineering disciplines to apply what they have learnt in a real-life setting, and challenges them to innovate and push boundaries. The successful launch of Galassia is a strong endorsement of NUS’ space engineering education and we hope that this will also inspire more talented students who are passionate about space R&D to pursue their interest in this field.”

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From left: Prof Goh inspecting Kent Ridge 1 together with Dr Luo Sha and Assoc Prof Soh Wee Seng, both from NUS ECE

The 77.2-kg Kent Ridge 1 micro-satellite was jointly developed by NUS Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), and CRISP; together with partners including Berlin Space Technologies, Nanyang Polytechnic and ST Electronics (Satcom & Sensors Systems) Pte Ltd. It is designed to conduct scientific analysis of Earth’s surface characteristics. This hyper-spectral imaging micro-satellite can break down colour into its constituent components, which enables it to collect information on what is happening to Earth when sunlight is decomposed into its constituent wavelengths. This information helps to detect changes in soil, vegetation, volcanoes, water temperature and fires. Kent Ridge 1 has an operational mission life of two years, and is much smaller and lighter than its conventional counterparts.

NUS faculty and researchers already have plans to develop the next generation of Galassia and Kent Ridge satellites, with the aim of achieving new technological breakthroughs.

The follow-on Galassia project will involve the development of a six-unit nano-satellite with enhanced capability such as propulsion and altitude control together with an optical mission for high-resolution imaging. The propulsion capability might enable an interplanetary mission such as flying a nano-satellite to explore the Moon. As for Kent Ridge 2, the NUS team would explore incorporating high resolution multi-spectral imaging.

Catch the three-part series on the launch of the Singapore satellites, Journey To Space, on Channel NewsAsia on 21 December 2015, and 4 and 11 January 2016.

See press release and media coverage.

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NUS staff and students gathered on campus to watch a live webcast of the rocket blasting off