x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UAE satellite safely in orbit

Scientists now checking craft's systems as it prepares to begin its mission - collecting detailed images of the Middle East.

ABU DHABI // The UAE's first government satellite, DubaiSat-1, is circling the globe at the start of its five-year mission after a "seamless" launch late on Wednesday night. Now 680km above the Earth, the satellite is moving at more than 20 times the speed of sound and communicating with ground controllers in Dubai, officials said.

"With the blessing of Allah, the launch process was completely successful, and DubaiSat-1 is now carrying the UAE's flag into space," said Ahmed al Mansoori, the director general of the Emirates Institution of Advanced Science and Technology, which oversaw the project. "DubaiSat-1 is undoubtedly a sterling addition to the UAE's strategic accomplishments, and what we have achieved so far can be attributed to the hard work and dedication of our national engineers and scientists.

"While the Moon landing was a huge leap for humanity, DubaiSat-1 is a huge leap for the UAE's science and technology initiatives, and for our nation's aspirations." The 200kg spacecraft, carried aloft by a Russian-made Dnepr-1 rocket, lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at about 10.45pm UAE time, officials said. It will use a high-resolution camera to capture images of the region for use in urban planning and disaster relief.

Scientists are working on DubaiSat-1's calibration and data transfer processes. Audrey Nice, spokeswoman for Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, which used the same rocket to launch a separate satellite, said the blast-off went smoothly. "The rocket lifted off at 00.46 [local time]," she said. "Everything went according to plan. All the satellites separated successfully and they are all currently in orbit.

"The launch went very well. It was an absolutely seamless launch." Experts say that in its low-altitude orbit, DubaiSat-1 should be visible to the naked eye and resemble a moving star. The satellite was one of six attached to the modified intercontinental ballistic missile. DubaiSat-1 will beam back detailed images using a high-bandwidth radio antenna. A second, lower-bandwidth antenna handles navigational instructions and operational commands for the satellite, which measures a little more than a metre across.

The computer systems on board the craft will be powered up in sequence; it is expected to be several days before it is fully operational. The UAE companies Yahsat and Thuraya have launched communications satellites, but this is the first government device sent into orbit. The satellite will have to withstand dramatic temperature changes. When in sunlight, it can be heated to about 200C, while in shadow the temperature can plummet to close to absolute zero, or minus 270C.

The data collected by DubaiSat-1 will be available to all government bodies and academic institutions. The spacecraft is powered by solar panels, which charge batteries to keep the electrical systems running when it is in shadow. It will circle the Earth every 100 minutes, spending approximately 60 per cent of its time in sunlight. chamilton@thenational.ae