After micro-satellite, DOST set to launch ‘cube satellites’ in 2018

By Edd K. Usman

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is aiming to address the communication problem in the country’s far-flung villages by leveraging space technology, specifically cube satellites or CubeSats.

Dr. Carlos Primo David (standing, right), executive director of PCIEERD, gives a pep talk to some awardees of the Young Innovators Program, a new initiative that gives talented high schools funding support for their tech innovation projects

Dr. Carlos Primo David (standing, right), executive director of PCIEERD, gives a pep talk to some awardees of the Young Innovators Program, a new initiative that gives talented high schools funding support for their tech innovation projects

Dr. Carlos Primo David, executive director of the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD), one of the DOST’s three sectoral planning councils, revealed this in an interview on Thursday, June 29, during the agency’s seventh anniversary celebration.

David said they are now developing CubeSats, which the DOST plans to send to orbit sometime next year. “We plan to launch two CubeSats in 2018,” he said.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said CubeSats belong to a class of nano-satellites using standard size and form factor. It said the “standard CubeSat size uses a ‘one unit’ or ’1U’ measuring 10x10x10 cms and is expandable to larger sizes: 1.5, 2, 3, 4, and even 12U.

The California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo first developed in 1999 the CubeSat for use as a platform for students’ education and space exploration.

The DOST unit said CubeStats are ideal for enabling communication in barangays (villages), particularly in remote areas not served by telecommunications companies.

The science agency said that while the need to communicate in the rural villages is already important enough, it becomes even more urgent during times of disasters, considering the Philippines gets an average of 20 typhoons and storms a year.

The Philippines has 81 provinces, 1,490 municipalities, and 42,036 barangays, many of which are located in far-off islands and remote mountains. These villages are not served by the telcos because the return of investment is virtually zero.

The devastation brought about by Typhoon Yolanda — one of the world’s strongest recorded typhoons to make landfall on November 8, 2013 — also exposed the need for resilient communication as cellular signals became non-existent at that time.

With this in mind, the DOST said it is now in the thick of preparations to develop and assemble at least two CubeSats for deployment in space.

The PCIEERD chief said “CubeSats will be for communication, for barangays with no communications system, or mobile phone signal.”

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

He said the strategy will involve many small satellites orbiting one after the other. “When CubeSats are orbiting and then you lost (mobile) signal because one of them passed by, the next one will provide the signal. So, the communications signal is continuous,” David said.

He said DOST is building the CubeSats purposedly for barangays without communications. “You can convert radio signal into text message.”

David said with the success of the country’s first satellite, the 50-kilogram Diwata-1, which continues to travel her orbital path some 400 kilometers above Earth since April 27, 2016, and the impending launch of an improved Diwata-2 in the second quarter of 2018, DOST is now already planning Diwata-3 as well as at least eight “baby satellites” or CubeSats.

“We already have an ongoing training for the CubeSats. They are in Japan at KyuTech (Kyushu Institute of Technology),” he said.

David identified Filipino engineers as Adrian Sales and Joven Javier, who will learn how to build CubeSat from their Japanese teachers.

David also expressed elation that the next DOST satellite program will involve five Philippine universities, saying it used to be that only the University of the Philippines (UP) was involved in the Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Micro-satellite (PHL-Microsat) Program that started in December 2014.

David declined to name the five universities, aside from saying two of them are in Metro Manila’s University Belt.

He added, though, that UP and DOST’s Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) will still provide guidance in building the country’s satellites.

Credit: SwissCube EPFL

Credit: SwissCube EPFL

Aside from Sales and Joven at KyuTech, other engineers who are working on Diwata-2 in Japan are Delburg Mitchao and Ellison Castro (Hokkaido University (HU); Ariston Gonzalez (who recently finished his Masters in Science degree) and Leonard Paet (Tohoku University TU); Julie Banatao and Paolo Violan (soon to enroll); and Gerwin Guba (research student). Gonzalez worked partly on Diwata-2, and he came home early in May this year.

Mitchao, Gonzalez, and Guba, along with Harold Bryan Paler, John Leur Labrador, Benjamin Jonah Magallon, and Kaye Kristine Vergel (all recently graduated also and came back home to impart their space technology knowledge); Julian Marvick Oliveros and Juan Paolo Espiritu are the original pioneers of the making of the country’s first-owned and -built micro-satellite.

Espiritu and Oliveros quit after the completion of Diwata-1 and opted to discontinue their masters degree course after raising some issues on their DOST scholarship program.

David, also officer-in-charge of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (DOST-PNRI), has indicated that the DOST will continue its Space Technology Development (STD) Program under the Duterte administration.

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