The latest creation at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) is almost ready to come out of the oven.
Not just any oven – one where Nayif-1, a nanosatellite designed and made by an Emirati team, is in its final stage, where the protective layer over the spacecraft’s electronic boards are heat-sealed for strength.
Nayif-1 is the first Emirati cubesat, or nanosatellite, meaning it weighs only 1.32 kilograms. It measures 10 x 10 x 11.35 centimetres.
Due to be launched early next year, it will also carry the first Arabic poem to be sent to space.
“I picked three lines from a poem composed by one of the UAE’s most famous poets, Ousha bint Khalifa Al Suwaidi, better known as Fatat Al Arab, that I felt captured the sentiments and the journey of Nayif,” says Ibrahim Al Qasim, project supervisor and manager of strategic research at MBRSC.
Nayif – meaning high, lofty and mighty – will carry these words: “I will ascend to the peaks of greatness, and will not descend. Next to the tall and noble one, who is beautiful in looks. Nayif, whose fate is to be Nayif, and all the Arabs desire and accept him.”
To be carried on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the United States, Nayif-1 has provided hands-on experience for more than two years to a team of seven engineering students at the American University of Sharjah.
They majored in fields including electrical, mechanical and computer engineering.
“The students will be able to operate Nayif-1 in its orbit from the ground station, which will be built at the American University of Sharjah,” says Mr Al Qasim.
“Nayif-1 will rebroadcast positive text messages to the world and will collect data for academic and scientific research.”
The space centre is where excitement, creativity, research, academia and innovation meet. With a staff of 120, it has laboratories and a ground station from which the satellites are run.
Mr Al Qasim says the centre received a huge boost with the announcement by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, of the UAE’s mission to Mars.
“When Sheikh Mohammed entrusted MBRSC with the Emirates Mars Mission to launch Al Amal or the Hope probe to the Red Planet in 2021, it created a lot of new excitement and energy at our centre, pushing us to think beyond and challenge ourselves,” says Mr Al Qasim. “It was a great motivation.”
Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE, the Mars mission will make the UAE the first Arab country to reach the Red Planet.
The aim behind the probe is to uncover the reasons for the decay of Mars’s atmosphere and to study changes in the Martian climate as it moves through its daily and seasonal cycles.
“We are still in the designing stage regarding the Mars mission,” Mr Al Qasim says. “We learn something new every day here and are asking hard questions and creating programs and technologies that will change how we live and build.”
MBRSC was founded this year by Sheikh Mohammed’s decree that established the centre and integrated it with the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (Eiast).
Eiast successfully launched DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2 in 2009 and 2013, and its team is now working on a bigger satellite – KhalifaSat – due for launch in 2018.
“When in space, it will become the most advanced satellite the UAE has launched so far,” Mr Al Qasim says. “The satellite will capture detailed imagery capable of competing with the highest industry standards as it orbits the Earth.
“The images KhalifaSat beams back to Earth will be among the most detailed commercially available.”
On a wide touchscreen, he pulls out two images of the same location, one shot by DubaiSat-1 and the other by DubaiSat-2. The sharpness and clarity from DubaiSat-2 stands out.
“The images from KhalifaSat will be even better,” he says, switching to an image with a red area highlighted.
“We have the infra-red option on DubaiSat-2 where it can show you where there is living vegetation in an area, and so you can get an idea of what is happening there, and how to change the landscape and how to plan for future developments and construction.
“With KhalifaSat, we will be able to better monitor environmental changes, such as global warming and the impact of human activity on natural environment. It will also help with urban planning.”
DubaiSat-1 was integral to United Nations relief operations after the 2011 tsunami in Japan. KhalifaSat will also be set to aid and monitor relief efforts across the world when needed.
The satellite will play a significant role in providing precise locations of ships in distress, while its images will be used in the production of detailed maps.
To understand the scale of what they do, visitors can see models of the satellites DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2 at the reception of the centre.
Each new creation is bigger than the one before, with DubaiSat-1 weighing 200kg, DubaiSat-2 300kg, and KhalifaSat 350kg.
The Hope Mars probe will weigh more than 700kg without fuel, reaching 1,500kg with fuel or the weight of an average car.
“It is a massive project. We will be building a whole section for it as we will need cranes to help us move it,” says Mr Al Qasim, pointing to a wall that will be pulled down for a new section dedicated to the Mars mission.
The satellites are built in “clean” labs that are sterilised against dust and organic material as much as possible. Researchers wear blue lab coats and suits, cover their hair and wear special shoes. After special air vents have blasted them clean, they cannot even drink water inside the lab.
“As an example, outside the labs there are about 35 million dust particles per cubic foot,” Mr Al Qasim says. “Inside, it is reduced to 100,000.
“It is important to keep the labs as clean as possible so there is no contamination of any kind to the satellites.”
Outsiders can speak to the lab workers through a vent and anything handed in has to go through a door that has air pumping outward.
One of the other success stories to come from the centre is its outreach programme, with workshops and events for pupils and teachers, while new science courses at universities have also been inspired by its work.
“In just over six months, we managed to reach 6,000 students,” says Mr Al Qasim. “Our aim is to inspire a whole new generation of scientists, researchers and thinkers and already we have many showing interest and wanting to work with us.
“We are able to dream again about space and beyond. We are looking at the stars and the planets again like our ancestors did.
“But we are one step ahead, we are actually going where no Arabs have gone before.”
Image by: http://www.thenational.ae/