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NUS and DSO National Laboratories launch research centre to develop capabilities in distributed satellite systems

NUS and DSO National Laboratories launch research centre to develop capabilities in distributed satellite systems

The Faculty
of Engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the DSO National Laboratories (DSO [1]) jointly launched
the Satellite Technology and Research Centre (STAR) today, to develop
cutting-edge capabilities in distributed satellite systems.

STAR is
helmed by Professor Low Kay Soon, who is from the Department of Electrical and
Computer Engineering at the NUS Faculty of Engineering and is a veteran of
Singapore’s satellite programmes. OpenGov interviewed
Prof. Low last year at EmTech Asia, where he talked about the trend towards miniaturisation
of satellites.

Traditional
satellites are large in size and weigh between a few hundred to a few thousand
kilogrammes. They are extremely expensive, and they usually take years to
build. However, in the past five years, satellites that weigh no more than 20
kilogrammes have been gaining popularity.

Smaller
satellites are relatively cheaper to produce, test and launch. They can also be
mass produced and they have a much shorter time to market. A fleet of small
satellites – flying in formation, swarm or constellation – could possibly cover
the whole Earth and reduce latency, hence opening up new services that were not
possible in the past.

This shift
towards small satellites is being viewed as an opportunity for Singapore to
carve out a place for itself as a key player in the new satellite application
industry. To achieve Singapore’s aspirations of being a spacetech leader, the Centre
will pioneer experimental satellite platforms, with a focus on the development
of small satellites. STAR will build multiple small satellites, each weighing
less than one tenth of conventional satellites, and fly them together. It will also
work towards deepening the local base of expertise in space and satellite
technologies.

This new Centre,
which is supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), will
focus on flying multiple small satellites in formation or constellation. STAR
will also train undergraduates and graduate students to meet the manpower needs
of Singapore’s fledgling space industry. STAR’s 1,400 sqm facility is currently
home to 50 research staff and students.

STAR will also
serve as a hub for research, education and commercialisation of expertise and
technologies relating to the space industry. STAR Director, Prof. Low said, “For
Singapore to gain a strong foothold in this knowledge-intensive sector, it is
crucial to develop a vibrant space innovation ecosystem comprising a critical mass of
home-grown talents, a thriving space industry, as well as a conducive research
environment where scientists, engineers and industry partners jointly innovate
and create new technologies to address satellite technology challenges.”

STAR is located
within the Singapore Wind Tunnel Facility on the NUS Kent Ridge campus, and it
comprises a state-of-the-art clean room facility for satellite testing and
assembly works, electrostatic discharge controlled laboratories for research
and student projects, as well as environmental testing facilities such as a
thermal chamber and a vacuum chamber.

“NUS made
its first foray into space in 2015 with the successful launch of two satellites,
which demonstrated our strong capabilities in engineering and satellite
technologies. The setting up of STAR will further sharpen these strengths and
help to nurture a new generation of well-trained engineers and engineer-leaders
who are ready to contribute to the space and aerospace industries,” said
Professor Chua Kee Chaing, Dean of NUS Faculty of Engineering.

“Satellite
engineering is the pinnacle of engineering. As a national laboratory, DSO has
developed strong capabilities in systems engineering, and we are excited to be
able to contribute our expertise in this field to the vision of STAR – a
leading centre for advanced distributed small satellite systems – to excite and
nurture students to be future satellite engineers,” said Mr Cheong Chee Hoo,
Chief Executive Officer of DSO.

“STAR
aspires to be a leading centre for advanced distributed satellite systems. We
will build and demonstrate the use of small satellites for various
applications, such as detection and monitoring of airplanes and ships. Such
capabilities will greatly enhance Singapore’s position as an aerospace and
maritime hub. STAR will
also work with industry
players, both established companies and new start-ups, by providing our
expertise and state-of-the-art satellite platform or subsystems. Such
partnerships are critical in building a vibrant indigenous high-tech satellite
industry,” Prof Low added.

STAR will
pursue its mission through three structured programmes:

Education
programme

NUS
undergraduate students from the Faculty of Engineering will have the
opportunity to undertake satellite and space related projects offered by STAR, exposing
students to real-life project applications, and provide them with
multidisciplinary, team-based work experience in the space industry. STAR
researchers will also support relevant academic modules, and supervise student
projects.

Research
programme

Researchers
at STAR are conducting cutting-edge research in mission design such as
collaborative sensing, as well as subsystem and component development, using a
precise navigation system with highly accurate clock, highly efficient power
management system, advanced control of satellite propulsion systems, and other
sophisticated technology.  

Satellite
mission programme

To
demonstrate its research capabilities, STAR will use its innovative satellite
architecture to develop scalable small satellites of various sizes and weights
for different applications. These small satellites will then be launched in
space to fly in formation or constellation. STAR aims to develop a fleet of
20-kg satellites that can be deployed in space by 2022, for applications such
as maritime and aerospace security. The small satellites can also be equipped with
other instruments for remote sensing to monitor environmental change and detect
forest fires.

[1] DSO is Singapore’s
largest defence research and development organisation, with the critical
mission to develop technological solutions to sharpen the cutting edge of
Singapore's national security.

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