Beer Sheva-based Ben Gurion University (BGU) will launch Israel’s first research satellite owned by an academic institution when nanosatellite BGUSAT lifts off on Wednesday. It will culminate five years of joint work with the country’s science ministry and Israel Aerospace Industries, as well as two years aof nanosat design and construction. It will also happen to share a ride with the UAE’s first cubesat, the Nayif-1, which has been developed by the American University of Sharjah (AUS).
It also shows the potential power of nanosatellites for universities, as they tend to cost a few hundred thousand dollars and are feasible investments for universities with large endowments or the ability to raise money from alumni very quickly.
BGUSAT and Nayif-1 will be two of 104 satellites that will go up on the PSLV-C37 mission from the Satish Dhawan launching pad in India, including the Cartosat 2D, Kazakhstan’s Al-Farabi-1), Switzerland’s Dido 2, the Netherlands’ PEASS, and Planet’s 88-nanosatellite-strong Flock 3P of “Dove” orbitersrbiters. It is purportedly the first time any Israeli university will have direct access to satellite data for research purposes.
Tel Aviv University will also have access to 10×10×30 cm3 BGUSAT, which will be on an orbital path ideal for researching Earth’s airglow layer (the area of the atmosphere with a faint emission of light that makes the night sky never appear completely dark). The two schools have submitted a joint proposal for funding to the Israel Space Agency, which has promised a further 1 million shekels to research conducted with the satellite.
“Nanosatellites enable space engineering and space research at costs that are affordable for academia. The reduced costs allow academia to assume a much more active role in the field taking advantage of the innovation and initiative of researchers and students,” Professor Dan Blumberg, BGU’s VP and Dean for R&D, said.
This won’t just be the first university-supported satellite in the UAE’s history, but its first satellite overall.
“Over the past two years, we began to establish CubeSat manufacturing technology in the UAE to be used in environmental and development-related fields which are of interest to the community,” Yousuf Al Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC), the UAE’s national space center, said in a statement. Once in orbit, the 10×10×11.35 cm3 Nayif-1 will purportedly send and receive messages on amateur radio frequencies, according to the National.
Four students who took part in the satellite’s development have been recruited to join the MBRSC, Al-Shaibani added, saying, “The center aspires to build a sustainable future for the satellite industry in the UAE, and we count on our youth to provide solutions and innovations that are conducive to sector growth.”
An independent alternative for universities
Nanosatellites are far more agile than conventional satellites and cost a “whole order of magnitude less,” BGU spokesperson Ehud Zion Waldoks told Geektime, who added the orbiter will operate from an altitude of 500 km, significantly lower than classic satellites which might be as far away as 36,000 km from the surface.
Several companies, most notably Silicon Valley-based Planet, have launched dozens of them to create the world’s largest startup-controlled satellite constellation (i.e., network). They provide an incredible opportunity for schools with limited budgetary resources to develop and plan their own satellites for direct research purposes. In the case of both these particular launches, government organizations supported the effort, but it is entirely feasible future nanosats will be independently developed by universities and launched with the help of private companies like SpaceX.
In Israel, where startups like SkyFi and Spacepharma have developed satellites that will respectively focus communication signals and conduct biological experiments in microgravity, there is an expectation more of these nano-orbiters will make it to the cosmos in the coming years.
“We expect challenging ideas from the Israeli research community,” Avi Belsberger, director of the Israel Space Agency, wrote in a press release.”This is the first time that Israeli researchers will have the opportunity to receive information directly from a completely ‘blue and white’ satellite, without having to go through other countries or research agencies.”
“This is the first time that Israeli researchers will have the opportunity to receive information directly from a completely ‘blue and white’ satellite, without having to go through other countries or research agencies,” Belsberger added, referring to the colors of the national flag. BGUSAT will also carry a “unique” camera that functions in short infrared and will be used to observe weather patterns.
That camera was jointly developed by MicroGic Electronics and IAI’s Space Division. The satellite will have an operations team on the ground at BGU’s Earth and Planetary Image Facility (EPIF), the university’s Ehud Zion Waldoks told Geektime.
“We are proud to be part of an innovative technological project, which opens up the world of nanosatellites to new and varied scientific missions. For the first time, a dedicated computer with computing power similar to those of the larger satellites, but developed specifically for nanosatellites by the space division, has been installed,” IAI MBT Space Division head Col. (res.) Ofer Doron said in a statement to the press. He added the same computer features on the craft that Google Lunar XPrize team SpaceIL will launch toward the moon in the latter half of 2017.
Expect more schools, from unexpected places, to get into the act in 2017 and 2018.
BRAC University in Bangladesh will join the club next month when it launches its BRAC ONNESHA cubesat with the help of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.