PH eyes launching 3 cube satellites in 2020

By Ma. Cristina Arayata

March 11, 2020, 7:07 pm

<p><strong>CUBESATS</strong>. DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña says the agency eyes launching three cube satellites in 2020. This is among the 20 projects that the department would launch this year. <em>(PNA file photo by Cristina Arayata)</em></p>

CUBESATS. DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña says the agency eyes launching three cube satellites in 2020. This is among the 20 projects that the department would launch this year. (PNA file photo by Cristina Arayata)

MANILA – The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is looking at launching three cube satellites or nanosatellites this year.

DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña announced the launching of the two nanosatellites-- Maya-3 and Maya-4 -- in a presentation to the media last February 20.

Cube satellites are small satellites originally designed to provide hands-on experience in developing satellites. These are usually sent to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

"In this orbit, the satellite passes in a particular part of the earth for about 10 minutes. Maya-1, for instance, passes (to capture) the Philippines twice a day for six to 10 minutes. We need more cube satellites for continuous coverage of the Philippines," Space Science Proliferation through University Partnerships (STeP-UP) Project member Mara Mendoza told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in email correspondence.

The development of Maya-3 and Maya-4 cube satellites are part of the STeP-UP Project.

Cube satellites last for six months to more than a year in orbit, depending on satellite mass, surface area, electronics inside, and the solar cycle, Mendoza said.

Maya-1, which was developed by two Filipinos students at the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) in Japan, is still in space since its launch in 2018.

Maya-1 contains an Automatic Packet Radio Service Digipeater which can communicate with ham radios. It also carries two cameras that have a wide-angle and narrow-angle lens to capture images and videos for research purposes.

In 2016 and 2018, the DOST also launched Filipino-made microsatellites, the Diwata-1 and Diwata-2, respectively.

Microsatellites are used to capture images that will be used for remote sensing (data-gathering about the earth's surface) and for research. They also gather data on natural and man-made disasters, to monitor vegetation and water changes, among others.

"Since microsatellites are bigger, they require more expensive components, development process, and launch," she said, adding that developing microsatellites usually takes time to source the components, for fabrication and testing.

She said a cube satellite weighs approximately 1 kilogram and measures 10 centimeters on each side.

Compared to Diwata-1 and Diwata-2 that both have better cameras and more payloads, the cube satellites' components are cheaper since they are smaller, Mendoza said.

"Because of this, it is better to create 'a constellation of satellites' that does not need huge cameras. The use of amateur radio communications also has something to do with the cube satellite's size," she said.

"We hope that in the future, high school students would also learn to develop and launch cube satellites," she added.

The cube satellites have the same payloads for imaging and radio communications.

Maya-2, which is in the final stage of development, has additional experimental payloads, such as different antenna design and other materials used for the solar panels of a cube satellite, Mendoza said.

Maya-2 is being made by three Filipino students, with the help of representatives from Japan and Paraguay.

"Maya-3 and Maya-4 were based on the satellite bus of Maya-1, and their missions are also the same with Maya-1. Experiments and improvements such as camera filters, new antenna, were added," Mendoza said.

She said launching the three cube satellites this year would still be dependent on coordination with international regulatory bodies, with regard to the frequency and rocket launches that will be used.

The DOST is currently coordinating with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and other partners for the launch of the three cube satellites, Mendoza said.

Dela Peña earlier announced that the DOST has allotted PHP20 million for Maya-3 and Maya-4.

The fund was allocated for the scholarship of eight graduate students who would develop these, for the components, space environment tests, pre, and post-launch safety reviews.

The scholarship covers the students' tuition, stipend, research grant, a "sandwich" program in Japan for them to undergo training in satellite development. (PNA)