The University of the Philippines Diliman is now home to a pioneering research and development (R&D) laboratory for small satellites.
Dubbed the “University Laboratory for Small Satellites and Space Engineering Systems” or ULyS³ES, the facility was inaugurated on Saturday, August 31, in a ceremony attended by officials from UPD, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and partners from academe, government, industry and media.
Located at the site of the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute (UPD-EEEI) in UP Diliman, ULyS³ES was built as part of the research program, “Development of the Philippines Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite” or PHL-Microsat (2014-2018) and its successor, the “Space Technology & Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement” or STAMINA4ASpace (2019-2023).
The PHL-Microsat and STAMINA4Space programs are implemented by UPD and the DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI) with support from the DOST-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development and the DOST Grants-in-aid (GIA).
ULyS³ES is intended to serve as an academic hub for interdisciplinary R&D and instruction innovations in space technology in the Philippines. Comprised of two buildings, ULyS³ES-1 and ULyS³ES-2, the laboratory enables engineering and science researchers to collaborate on the development of small satellites through relevant mission planning and the corresponding design, implementation and test of satellite bus and payload systems.
The collaboration also aims to develop courses that can be incorporated in undergraduate or graduate curricula and subsequently replicated or adopted by other universities.
Dedicated spaces for R&D in small satellite technologies
Highlights of the facility include shared spaces for researchers and staff, laboratories, testing facilities as well as an exhibit area.
The exhibit area showcases mock-ups of the 50-kg microsatellites Diwata-1 and Diwata-2, the 1-kg nanosatellite Maya-1, examples of electronic components developed for the small satellites, as well as other milestones of program for the information of visitors and guests of the facility.
ULyS³ES-1 contains the equipment for functional testing of small satellite components and integrated systems, “clean booths” for small satellite assembly, a thermal vacuum chamber for space environment testing of nanosatellites, as well as rapid prototyping equipment.
The ULyS³ES-1 laboratory also houses the Engineering Model (EM) of Diwata-2 and a Flight Model (FM) of Maya-1, which are functional replicas of the actual satellites that were deployed in space and used by STAMINA4Space researchers as testbeds for further experimentation and instruction.
To better appreciate how these facilities enable the design and development process of small satellite systems, the researchers conducted a demo of the various components of small satellites such as the communication subsystem and image capture capabilities.
Guests were also able to witness the visualization of Diwata-2’s actual behavior in orbit using the Diwata-2 Engineering Model table satellite setup.
Other highlights of the tour included a demonstration by the STAMINA4Space Program’s Optical Payload Technology, In-depth Knowledge Acquisition and Localization (OPTIKAL) Project, led by Dr. Maricor Soriano of the UP Diliman National Institute of Physics (UPD-NIP), of a prototype electro-optic camera payload for a small satellite.
The Ground Receiving, Archiving, Science Product Development and Distribution (GRASPED) component of STAMINA4Space also explained how satellites are tasked through uploaded commands and how acquired imagery and other data are then downloaded to the ground station, specifically through DOST-ASTI’s Philippine Earth Data Resource and Observation (PEDRO) Center.
The raw data are then processed, archived, and then made accessible online by the STAMINA4Space Program at no cost.
The ULyS³ES-2 has a Full Anechoic Chamber (FAC) that is used to measure and test the radiation pattern of antennas. The first of its kind in the Philippines, it enables faster development cycle for a satellite’s communication system through (in situ) antenna measurements and performance verification of the onboard radios or transceivers. The efficient performance of antennas and radio systems is a crucial ingredient in ensuring the success of the satellite mission.
“Command, control and communication will not be possible if the satellite’s antennas or radios fail and the FAC provides us with the means for testing the functionality of those critical subsystems”, said Keziah Bartilad, a member of the STAMINA4Space Program and manager of the FAC facility.
The ability to perform these measurements locally is a much welcome development, according to representatives from local semiconductor and electronics companies and academic institutions who attended the inauguration.
“Apart from supporting academic research, the facility was built with local industry in mind as part of ensuring sustainability,” said Dr. Joel Marciano, program leader of STAMINA4Space and acting director of DOST-ASTI.
“There are companies in the Philippines that design, manufacture and test wireless communication systems and they can avail of the facility’s services,” he added.
During the tour, guests were able to witness the actual testing of an antenna system prototype built by a local company and hear from the company representatives about the benefits of the facility.
Both buildings are also fitted out with offices for researchers, students and staff, meeting rooms and other shared spaces that were designed to provide an environment conducive to collaboration.
The spaces also support instructional activities, such as the implementation of the nanosatellite engineering track and scholarships in the Master of Science (MS) and Master of Engineering (MEng) in Electrical Engineering (EE) programs of UPD-EEEI being implemented by the Space Science and Technology Proliferation through University Partnerships (STeP-UP) component of the STAMINA4Space program.
In his message, DOST secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña noted the timeliness of the inauguration of ULyS³ES in view of the recent passage of the Republic Act No. 11363, which marks the creation of a Philippine Space Agency.
He affirmed the agency’s support in space initiatives — as stated in a recent press conference — with the DOST having invested a total of approximately P7.48 billion on space-related research and development over the past 10 years, which includes 15 space-related programs and projects implemented by different universities and agencies across the country.
DOST-PCIEERD executive director Dr. Enrico Paringit and DOST undersecretary for Research and Development Dr. Rowena Guevara echoed their support, having witnessed and been closely involved with the growing number of space initiatives under DOST.
By establishing a physical environment for space R&D, ULyS³ES also aims to encourage and inspire students to pursue careers in science and technology.
While abbreviated out of practicality (after the eponymous Latin name of the Greek hero Odysseus in Homer’s epic poem, Odyssey), Dr. Marciano said the name “ULyS³ES” might just as well have been inspired by the legendary Greek hero’s travels — likening the country’s foray into space technology to an adventure or journey.
“(An epic journey) beset by challenges but also profuse with opportunities,” he said. “Like Odysseus who wanted to come back home and toiled for ten years after fighting the Trojan war, our scholars — who were ‘sent to battle’, yearned for home as well. Not just to reunite with their families, but also to find a home for the application of their training. That academic home is ULyS³ES,” he said.