NTU building two satellites to launch into space in 2015

Associate Professor Low Kay Soon (left) and research engineer Lau Zi Rui with components from the Velox II satellite.

A satellite to test if data can be sent to Singapore even if the device is not flying above the country, and another to collect climate data - these are the two satellites Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is building to launch into space next year.

Velox-CI will be Singapore's first climate satellite, while Velox II is an experimental communication satellite, said NTU yesterday, in an update on its space projects.

Associate Professor Low Kay Soon, director of the Satellite Research Centre at NTU, said Velox II will test if data can be sent to a ground station at NTU even when a satellite is not above Singapore, using technology from Singapore company Addvalue Innovation and NTU.

Currently, satellites collect data all day long, but ground station staff might have to wait 12 hours for them to pass Singapore to download the data and can do so for only about 40 minutes a day.

Singapore is a pioneer in testing such technology, said Prof Low. "Satellite images of disaster areas may be transmitted in real-time in future; governments and aid organisations can assess the extent of the damage faster and plan more effective relief," he said, citing uses of the technology. If the technology proves successful, it can be used in commercial satellites in future, he added.

Explaining how it works, Prof Low said the 12kg Velox II transmits data it collects to a larger satellite in higher "geosynchronous" orbit, which appears stationary relative to Earth. The larger satellite then sends this data back to its ground station, where it is then relayed through the Internet to the user, he added.

"Pointing a smaller satellite to a larger one in space and communicating between them is technically challenging, but this is worth a try," said Prof Low.

He is also building Velox-CI, a 130kg device the size of a mini-fridge. Funded by the Economic Development Board, it will collect weather data, such as upper atmospheric temperature, humidity and pressure, which can be used for long-term tropical climate studies. Prof Low said such data is hard to come by.

NTU's efforts are part of Singapore's bid to venture into the space industry, worth an estimated US$177 billion (S$231 billion) in 2012. A record six Singapore satellites are expected to be launched next year, including the NTU ones.

NTU currently has four satellites in space, including Velox-PII, which was launched a year ago to test technologies such as sun sensors.

Fifty students are building the satellites with Prof Low. The two devices will also adopt some technologies successfully tested in NTU satellites previously sent into space. These include a mechanism to control the orientation of satellites and an advanced Global Positioning System module.

The recent Antares rocket crash, which made cargo, including experimental satellites, go up in flames, does not worry Prof Low. "Every launch is a risk and there is a 10 per cent chance of failure. We will be crossing our fingers," he said.


This article was first published on November 26, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.