PH’s first nanosatellite Maya-1 flies back to Earth

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After two years of successfully completing its mission, Maya-1, the country’s first nanosatellite, flew back to the Earth’s atmosphere on Nov. 23.

Maya-1 was launched into space aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida in the United States on June 29, 2018.

By August 10, 2018, it was deployed into space through the International Space Station’s Japanese Kibo Module together with two other CubeSats from Bhutan (BHUTAN-1) and Malaysia (UiTMSAT-1).

“Initially, the satellite was expected to stay in orbit for less than a year only, but it had stayed in orbit for about 2 years and 4 months,” said Adrian Salces, one of the Filipino graduate students who developed Maya-1.

Following the launch of Diwata-1 in 2016, Filipino graduate students Joven Javier and Adrian Salces developed Maya-1. It is one of the three cube satellites (CubeSats) under the 2nd Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Project or BIRDS-2 Project of the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) in Japan.

The development of the CubeSat is under the Development of Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite (PHL-Microsat) program, a research program jointly implemented by the University of the Philippines-Diliman (UPD) and the Advanced Science and Technology Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-ASTI) in partnership with Kyutech in Japan.

Named after the former national bird of the Philippines, the Maya-1 CubeSat may be small in size but packed with scientific instruments that have been helpful for researchers across the country.

One of the missions of the 1-unit (1U) CubeSat is the Store-and-Forward (S&F) System, where it collects data from ground sensor terminals within its footprint, saves it, and forwards the data to any member ground station.

The 10-cubic centimeter CubeSat also has an Automatic Packet Radio Service Digipeater, which can communicate with ham radios.

At the same time, Maya-1 carries two cameras, a wide-angle and a narrow-angle lens, which enabled the researchers to take various images of the Earth.

Maya-1 also contains a low-cost Global Positioning System (GPS) commercial off-the-shelf chip, and a magnetometer — a device used to measure the magnetic field in space. It can also log data corruption incidents due to space radiation through the Single Event Latch-Up mission.

Maya-1 engineers Dr. Adrian Salces (left) and Joven Javier (right) with former STAMINA4Space program leader and now director-general of the Philippine Space Agency Dr. Joel Joseph Marciano Jr. (middle)

Maya-1 has proven that the Philippines can build its own CubeSats. Aside from the technical aspects of developing CubeSats, the project team learned the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to solving problems.

“Most importantly, we have learned that we can build our own CubeSats,” said Space Science and Technology Proliferation through University Partnerships (STeP-UP) project leader Paul Jason Co.

STeP-UP is a graduate program with a nanosatellite engineering track housed within the University of the Philippines Diliman Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute (UPD EEEI).

Meanwhile, Salces said that their principal investigator and professor at Kyutech reminded them that the true success of the BIRDS project will not be determined by launching a perfectly working satellite in space, but the ability to apply what has been learned and replicate the entire process of satellite development in their respective countries.

“Following the hands-on training that students undergo while building the first CubeSat in Kyutech, the local development of a second and next generation of satellites in our home country will be a compelling evidence that the project has achieved its intended goal,” said Salces.

“Maya-1 and the experiences therein specifically served as a model for utilizing CubeSat as a relatively more cost-effective platform for university-based space education and research in the Philippines,” he added.

Moreover, Maya-1 has been a platform for proliferating space science and technology applications to more Filipinos.

“We built something we can share. With the size and complexity of Maya-1, we have built something that we can replicate and proliferate to more universities, and eventually to high schools across the country,” said Philippine Space Agency director-general Joel Joseph Marciano Jr.

“It was intended to and has become a platform for openly proliferating the technology of small satellites, and more importantly access to space for more Filipinos.”

Filipino researchers are continuously developing CubeSats. Maya-1’s successor, Maya-2, was recently completed and turned over to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) last September 24, 2020.

A group of scholars under the STeP-UP Project is developing two new CubeSats, Maya-3 and Maya-4. The second batch of scholars, on the other hand, has recently begun their studies and the development of Maya-5 and Maya-6.

“We look forward to the day when high school students will be building the successors of Maya-1, when they will be developing and crafting their own missions and experiments in space through nanosatellites, when they would feel that space belongs to them,” said Marciano.

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