NTU launches first student-run satellite under programme to train space engineers

SINGAPORE - The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has launched its first student-built satellite under a programme to train engineers for Singapore's space industry.

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Here is the full statement from NTU:

Singapore now has a second satellite - both built by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) - orbiting in space.

Wholly designed and built by NTU students, this latest satellite lifted off on board Russia's RS-20B rocket (Dnepr) at 3.10pm, Singapore time (7.10am Co-ordinated Universal Time, UTC) on Thursday, 21 November 2013. All systems are functioning well.

Launched from the Yasny Launch Base located in the Orenburg Region, Russia, the VELOX-PII is NTU's second satellite in space. Singapore's first locally-built satellite, the X-SAT, developed by NTU and DSO National Laboratories, was launched into space on 20 April 2011.

NTU has also built a new ground station on campus to control and monitor VELOX-PII for the next 12 months of its operating life. NTU's ground station has successfully contacted the satellite on Thursday, 21 November 2013 from 10.41pm to 10.54pm, Singapore time. In addition, VELOX-PII successfully transmitted data to NTU's ground station on Friday, 22 November 2013 from 12.18am to 12:30am, Singapore, indicating that the satellite is now fully operational.

The VELOX-PII, classified as a pico-satellite (a satellite that weighs around 1 kg), is now soaring some 600 kilometres above Earth, on an orbital plane that has a fixed orientation with the sun or what is known as a sun-synchronous low-Earth-orbit.

The 1.33 kg VELOX-PII is developed under NTU's Undergraduate Satellite Programme, a multi-disciplinary hands-on space project for students. The objective is to train highly-skilled engineers to support Singapore's space industry.

NTU President, Professor Bertil Andersson, said: "I am pleased that our engineering students have done us proud with the successful launch of VELOX-PII. This proves that they have the aptitude and attitude to successfully apply what they have learnt in the sophisticated area of satellite-building. It is also a fantastic showcase of NTU's strengths in research and engineering which augurs well for the future of Singapore's aerospace and space industry.

"We are confident that this remarkable satellite project will spur greater academic interest in engineering research and development among undergraduates. We will continue to nurture young talents under our revolutionary undergraduate research programme where students can design and build satellites together with our experienced faculty. In addition, we remain committed to push the frontiers in satellite research and further accelerate the commercialisation of made-in-NTU satellite technologies."

While in space, VELOX-PII will run tests to prove the viability and robustness of NTU's satellite technology, including hardware and software built in-house by students. This includes the fine sun sensor that is used to determine a satellite's orientation with respect to the sun; control and sensing algorithms that determine and control the satellite's orientation; and a power management system to harvest maximum solar energy for its solar panels.

Director of NTU's Satellite Research Centre, Associate Professor Low Kay Soon said: "The successful launch of VELOX-PII marks yet another momentous chapter in our journey into space. At NTU, we believe in doing applied research that can add value to various industries or sectors. We are thrilled by the enthusiastic response by our undergraduates who have participated in these challenging multi-disciplinary and team-based projects.

"Our pipeline of bigger projects will not only train our future students for a career in the aerospace and space industry, it will also further strengthen NTU as an exceptional institution of excellence in satellite technology as well as realise Singapore's ambitions to make a global mark in the space industry."

NTU is Singapore's first university to develop a satellite programme for undergraduates. Since 2009, second year engineering students onwards develop and build real satellites under the programme managed by NTU's Satellite Research Centre.

Mr Charlie Soon Jing Jun, who worked on the power management system of VELOX programme for his Final Year Project before he graduated with first class honours in Electrical and Electronic Engineering in 2010 at NTU, said the building of the satellites from scratch has proved to be a unique challenge.

"The skills and knowledge acquired from building a satellite with its many subsystems that need to be integrated well, will help me to excel in whatever I do in the future. With the emerging satellite industry being identified as a new growth industry for Singapore, I hope to combine my research in photovoltaic power system with satellite technology to explore new possibilities," said Mr Soon, now an NTU PhD student who mentors current students under the satellite programme.

Another NTU Electrical and Electronic Engineering 2010 graduate who had worked on the VELOX project is Mr Xing Yi Tong, now a research associate in NTU's Satellite Research Centre. Mr Xing said that one of the attractions of the VELOX project is its multi-disciplinary nature.

"Although my scope of work is focused on the attitude control of the satellite, I have the opportunity to work closely with specialists from different fields. Teamwork and excellent communication skills are integral in ensuring the success of this project. Apart from the technical knowledge gained from this programme, I have no doubt that the soft skills I have honed will be transferable and put me in good stead for my future career," said Mr Xing who graduated with an NTU Master of Engineering degree in a research topic on satellite attitude control last year.

NTU's current fleet of satellites being boosted

In NTU's 10-year satellite road map, the university plans to develop at least four nano-satellites (nano-satellites typically weigh between a few kilograms and 20 kg).

The student teams are also working on another 4.5 kg nano-satellite named VELOX-I. It is now undergoing its final stages of testing and is on track to be launched early next year. VELOX-I has an in-house design radiation tolerant camera sensor, actuator, inter-satellite communication, deployment and separation mechanism.

In addition to operating the X-SAT which is currently in space, NTU's Satellite Research Centre has also embarked on building the Singapore's first weather satellite. The core team from the X-SAT programme is also working on Singapore's first commercial remote sensing satellite, TeLEOS-1.