The locally built Maya-3 and Maya-4 cube satellites (CubeSats) of the Philippine government were launched to the International Space Station on August 29 at 3:14 P.M. (PST) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket’s Dragon C208 as part of SpaceX Commercial Resupply Mission-23 (SpX-23).
Weighing approximately 1.15 kilograms per unit with 10-centimeter cubic frames, the CubeSats house components that are designed to demonstrate nanosatellite-based remote data collection systems and optical imaging.
Once the CubeSats are released from the ISS, they will move along an orbit similar to the space station’s, which is at an altitude of approximately 400 kilometers.
The Maya-3 and Maya-4 CubeSats are fashioned after the bus heritage of Maya-1, but with enhancements incorporated from the previous design. Maya-3 and Maya-4 are mostly identical with only difference in a mission, that is the near-infrared camera, which is mounted only on Maya-4.
These latest CubeSats were built under the Space Science and Technology Proliferation through University Partnerships (STeP-UP) project of the STAMINA4Space Program, which is funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and is implemented by the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) and the DOST Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI).
The nanosatellite development track under the Master of Science (MS) or Master of Engineering (MEng) program of the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute of the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD-EEEI) is also implemented in collaboration with the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) in Japan and with scholarship support from the Department of Science and Technology’s Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI).
“The success of Maya-3 and Maya-4 will prove that CubeSats can be successfully built locally,” said STeP-UP project leader Paul Jason Co. “The knowledge and experience gained from this endeavor can and will be shared to any other institutions through collaboration and cooperation.”
The development of the CubeSats are part of the course requirements of the Master of Science (MS) or Master of Engineering (MEng) under the nanosatellite engineering track.
The first batch of STeP-UP scholars are composed of eight students who received scholarship support from DOST-SEI. They are Gladys Bajaro, Derick Canceran, Bryan Custodio, Lorilyn Daquioag, Marielle Magbanua-Gregorio, Christy Raterta, Judiel Reyes, and Renzo Wee.
Prior to the launch, the CubeSats were tested thoroughly to ensure that they can survive the launch and harsh space conditions. The team performed space environment tests of the two CubeSats and analyzed the results.
Reports detailing the results of various tests were then sent to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for evaluation. After satisfying the set acceptance requirements, the CubeSats were turned over to JAXA for their launch to the ISS.
“The Maya-3 and Maya-4 CubeSats use the heritage bus of Maya-1 — which was developed as part of the BIRDS-2 Project led by Kyutech and launched along with Bhutan-1 (Bhutan) and UiTMSat-1 (Malaysia),” said the scholars.
“Maya-3 and Maya-4 incorporate enhancements from the previous design including improvements in the antenna board. They are mostly identical, only with a difference in a mission, that is, the Near-infrared camera which is mounted only on Maya-4.
BIRDS Project Principal Investigator and Professor and Director of the Laboratory of Lean Satellite Enterprises and In-Orbit Experiment (LaSEINE) in Kyutech, Dr. Mengu Cho, is one of the mentors from Japan who has closely collaborated with the Maya engineers and the PHL-Microsat and STAMINA4Space Programs.
“It is my pleasure to continue working with the Philippine teams,” he said. “The collaboration benefits not only the Philippine side but also the Japanese side. The Kyutech team, including students, learn many things and improve ourselves through the collaboration. Maya-3 and Maya-4 are the first examples of applying BIRDS satellite bus to abroad. I am delighted to see the DNA of the BIRDS program is inherited and evolves in developing countries.”
For STAMINA4Space program leader Maricor Soriano, opportunities seized in local CubeSat development yield a clear return of investment.
“Maya-3 and Maya-4 built by our STeP-UP scholars in the Philippines lends credence to the quote ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ Convincing local industries to participate in space technology development requires two things — local expertise and a clear return of investment. CubeSats are the low-hanging fruits which Philippine industries can grab because aside from being scalable, we already can train people to build them,” she said.
According to Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) director general Joel Joseph Marciano Jr., this was all part of the plan.
“When we sent Filipino scholars to Kyutech to work on Maya-1 in 2016 and Maya-2 in 2018, we committed to the idea of being able to build and innovate future Maya cubesats in our own laboratories. With Maya-3 and Maya-4 being lifted up to the ISS today, we achieve that proximate objective,” he said.
“This accomplishment spurs us on toward our larger goal of growing local space capabilities and cascading them to industry and society. I thank and congratulate the scholars, their mentors, and everyone in the team for their hard work, and look forward to more Mayas and breakthroughs to come.”
DOST secretary Fortunato de la Peña said this latest development is a “crowning moment” for these initiatives.
“As a Filipino, I feel proud and hopeful that we have already developed our cube satellites locally. As a science and technology administrator, I think this is a crowning moment for the initiatives that we have undertaken, a return on investment of sorts for whatever resources we have put into the Philippine space technology development program, and a proof that our Filipino scientists, engineers, and researchers can be depended upon given a clear vision and target that we want to achieve,” he said.
“I commend the team who worked to accomplish this particular goal. We will aim higher of course. I feel fortunate about having our first batch of STeP-UP Scholars, who in spite of diversity of backgrounds in science and engineering, were able to accomplish their tasks within the given time frame.”
As the Maya-3 and Maya-4 team awaits the CubeSats’ release from the ISS into orbit, they continue with the preparatory tasks for the operations phase of the project. At the same time, Maya-3 and Maya-4’s successors, Maya-5 and Maya-6, are simultaneously being developed by the second batch of STeP-UP scholars.