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NTU EEE develops imaging radar for satellites that can capture high-res images in any weather, day or night

 Project lead NTU EEE Professor Lu Yilong (left) and NTU EEE senior research fellow Liu Weixian (centre) carry the drone carrying the prototype of the synthetic aperture radar, while NTU Satellite Research Centre director Lim Wee Seng holds a microsatellite that the radar can be attached to for launching into space.

A group of scientists from NTU School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and its Satellite Research Centre (SaRC) has developed a radar that creates images from radio waves which can penetrate through heavy smoke. The team comprising NTU EEE Prof Lu Yilong, SaRC Executive Director Lim Wee Seng and NTU EEE Senior Research Fellow Liu Weixian have been working on this project for 3 years.

The Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) can surveil any terrain through the thick dust and ash to locate survivors. This technology will allow search and rescue operations by air to continue even when hampered by visibility. Unlike conventional optical cameras, the radar captures non-visible information such as ground soil types, the speed of vehicles, and even minute movements of tectonic plates.

The prototype is about the size of a volleyball, much smaller than other SARs. Professor Lu Yilong, from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, who also led the development of the radar, said the radar is also light, thus optimised for drones and microsatellites (under 150 kilograms) and has already attracted industry interest.

Microsatellite-SARs also cost a fraction of conventional big satellite-SARs. The reduced cost means it is possible to launch multiple sets, which can be controlled by one person and enable a faster retrieval of data. Such data would be a boon for various fields, especially meteorological stations that monitor earthquakes and trigger advance warning systems ahead of forecasted catastrophes.

Said Prof Lu: “The main advantages of the radar are that it can see different types of information on the Earth’s surface in all types of weather, in the day and night. This technology will also open new doors in climatology, earth sciences and other fields, providing beneficial solutions of society.”

NTU is working with French space and defence company NEXAYA and local tech firm Censin Technology to push the radar’s developments to the next stage. The partnership aims to introduce new concepts in the nano satellite segments with specific payload onboard satellites less than 100 kg. NEXAYA will develop the satellite platform for the imaging radar while Censin Technology will provide market access and commercialise the technology.

Professor Yoon Soon Fatt, Chair of NTU’s School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, said, “The School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering is the largest engineering school in NTU. We work closely with industry leaders and currently have 4 corporate laboratories with Rolls Royce, SMRT, ST Engineering and Delta Electronics. Being a research intensive school, we strive to ensure that our research is translational. This new partnership will enable ideas nurtured at our Satellite Research Centre (SaRC) to take flight and our students get to play a role in its development. SaRC has successfully built, launched and operated seven satellites in space for the last seven years, and we believe this radar technology will be a game changer for the space industry.”

NTU satellites in space

NTU is the first university in Singapore to set up their own Satellite Research Centre (SaRC) and launch a satellite programme for undergraduates and postgraduates. The success of NTU’s first satellite, the X-SAT, has resulted in a joint venture between ST Electronics (Satcom & Sensor Systems) Pte Ltd, DSO National Laboratories and NTU, to form ST Electronics (Satellite Systems) Pte Ltd. The Satellite Research Centre (SaRC) manages and operates the seven satellites in space today.

The seven satellites are:

  • X-SAT - Singapore’s first locally built satellite launched in April 2011. The fridge-sized micro-satellite weighing 105kg is built by NTU and DSO National Laboratories.
  • VELOX-PII - an NTU student-built nano-satellite satellite launched in November 2013. It is the size of a 10cm cubic box weighing 1.3kg.
  • VELOX-I - a 4.5-kilogramme satellite built by students and research staff to demonstrate advanced satellite technologies designed by NTU. It tested an inter-satellite communication system that could communicate with the 193- grams VELOX-PIII satellite which it piggybacked. These two satellites were launched in June 2014.
  • VELOX-II - a 12kg nano-satellite that demonstrated Inter-Satellite Data relay System (IDRS) which is owned and developed by Addvalue Innovation Pte Ltd. It was launched on 16th Dec 2015 and is NTU’s first satellite to carry a commercial payload.
  • VELOX-CI - a 123-kg microsatellite, supported by Singapore’s Economic Development Board, is designed to evaluate a new precise navigation system and to measure atmospheric parameters for studying the tropical climate. It was launched on 16 Dec 2015 together with VELOX-II and four other satellites from India.
  • AOBA VELOX-III - a 2.3-kg nanosatellite, jointly developed with Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) to demonstrate the operation of Pulsed Plasma Thruster for attitude control and orbit maintenance. Deployed from International Space Station (ISS) on 16 January 2017.

NTU scientists come up with lightweight mini radar

The Straits Times, page B4 (with blurb on page A2)


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