NTU EEE successfully launched its 7th satellite into space from the International Space Station (ISS) on 16 January 2017.
Named the AOBA VELOX-III, it is the first Singapore satellite to be launched from the ISS. It is a 110-metre habitable human-made satellite that orbits the Earth. The nano-satellite features a unique micro-thruster built by NTU EEE, which enables the satellite to remain in space twice as long than it usually would.
Traditionally, small satellites do not have thrusters due to modest budgets and insufficient space to mount conventional thrusters used by bigger satellites. Without thrusters, satellites have no means to keep them in orbit and will gradually lose altitude.
The satellite was delivered to the ISS in December 2016 by Japan's national aerospace agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), on a resupply rocket from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at Tanegashima Space Center, Japan.
Unlike the conventional way of launching a satellite directly into space from a rocket, the two-kilogramme VELOX-III was shot into orbit around earth using a special launcher by a Japanese astronaut at the ISS.
The AOBA VELOX-III is a joint project between NTU EEE and Japan’s Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech), one of Japan’s leading universities for satellite research and engineering, for the past three years.
Director of the NTU EEE Satellite Research Centre (SaRC), Mr Lim Wee Seng, said they have successfully made contact with AOBA VELOX-III, which is now orbiting 400 kilometres above Earth.
“The successful deployment of the AOBA VELOX-III is testament to the strong satellite engineering expertise at NTU. Building up the local satellite talent pool and developing disruptive technologies like the micro-thruster in the AOBA VELOX-III is important for Singapore’s budding space industry,” Mr Lim said.
“Riding on the success of the AOBA VELOX III, we are now developing our second joint satellite with Kyutech which could lead to small and manoeuvrable satellites being used as space probes in future.”
Professor Mengu Cho, Director of Kyutech’s Laboratory of Spacecraft Environment Interaction Engineering, said, “AOBA VELOX-III is an important milestone in the Japan-Singapore inter-university space exploration.”
“We are looking forward to another joint satellite that is under development and scheduled to be launched in 2018. The long-term goal of the Kyutech-NTU joint space programme is to do a lunar mission using the technologies demonstrated by these two satellites.”
Professor Yoon Soon Fatt, Chair of NTU’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, said conducting real satellite missions are key to training local talents for Singapore’s future satellite industry.
“Satellite technology is a field that requires strong expertise across several disciplines, from power systems and batteries to integrated circuits and wireless communications,” Prof Yoon said. “The actual designing, building and operating real satellites in space gives a huge boost to the learning journey of our students and is an unparalleled experience for those seeking careers in the space industry."
Longer time in space for seventh satellite
Orbiting at 400 kilometres above sea level, the AOBA VELOX-III will be conducting several tests. This includes the made-in-NTU micro-propulsion system, a new wireless communication system developed by Kyutech and experiments to evaluate the durability of commercial off-the-shelf microprocessors in space.
NTU EEE’s new micro-propulsion system generates a small amount of thrust using pulsed plasma, which could lift the satellite 200 metres for each hour of flight. The micro-thrusters will help extend its flight lifespan to six months instead of the usual three months before it loses altitude.
Mr Lim added that these space experiments by AOBA VELOX-III will enhance the university’s satellite building capabilities, paving the way for the next generation of nanosatellites that are more advanced and reliable.
NTU EEE’s 5th and 6th satellites achieve remarkable results in their first year
The 5th and 6th satellites launched by NTU EEE hit their one-year mark in space on 16 Dec 2016, since being launched the previous year. Triumphantly, both satellites flew a combined 10,000 times around the earth and travelled 400 million km. Most importantly, our satellites have carried out thousands of successful missions – from data collection to satellite verification and testing operations.
The larger of the two satellites, the Velox-CI weighing 123kg takes climate measurements such as atmospheric temperature, humidity and pressure – and evaluates a new, precise navigation system.
Meanwhile, the considerably smaller Velox-II, weighs a tenth of the Velox-CI, at 12kg. Notwithstanding its size, the Velox-II is significantly the first of NTU's six satellites to carry a commercial payload. It is also testing out a new communications technology, developed by home-grown satellite technology developer Addvalue Technologies.
Known as the Inter-Satellite Data Relay System, it overcomes a major hurdle in satellite communications systems by allowing the satellite to provide on-demand communication with the ground station even when it is not within range.
“More real-time reaction can be made on the ground to combat the haze problem that has been plaguing our region for years," commented Mr Tan Kai Pang, Addvalue's chief operating and technology officer.
The executive director of NTU EEE’s Satellite Research Centre, Mr Lim Wee Seng, said: "These completed space experiments have further enhanced the university's satellite building capabilities, making its next generation of nanosatellites more advanced and reliable, (having capabilities) such as a highly precise location and navigation system, as well as on-demand satellite communication."
The Singapore Government has said the space and satellite sector is one of the new industry clusters that it will focus on growing.
NTU EEE’s SaRC part of team that received the President's Technology Award for their satellite TeLEOS-1
NTU EEE’s Satellite Research Centre (SaRC) was part of the team that received the President's Technology Award by the Singapore President, Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana in October 2016. The award is one of the highest honours for contributions by scientists in Singapore.
The award recognises the team’s contributions to the advancement of Singapore's satellite engineering and systems capabilities. The team’s contributions centre around the successful launch of the TeLEOS-1, the biggest Singapore-made satellite and also Singapore's first commercial satellite. In addition, it is Singapore’s first locally-built Earth Observation satellite that provides high resolution imagery. It effectively positions Singapore among the limited high-tech nations worldwide of achieving successful ventures in Space.
NTU EEE’s SaRC worked collaboratively with industry partners such as ST Electronics (Satellite System) and DSO National Laboratories – in which they contributed to areas like the design & development of the TeLEOS-1 Satellite System, as well as generous sharing of satellite engineering knowledge & resources.
By Mr Lim Wee Seng, Executive Director SaRC, School of EEE
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Published on: 8-Feb-2017