By Ram Khatry
14 January 2019
It’s not exactly the “Moon Landing” but it certainly is a “giant leap” for a tiny, struggling South Asian nation. A Nepalese flag-imprinted nano-satellite will soon be flying in space as the country’s first satellite enters the final phase of its development, testing and flight-preparation.
PhD student at Japan’s Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech), Abhas Maskey, is heading the BIRDS-3 project which is building one satellite each for Nepal, Sri Lanka and Japan. The eight-member team has already completed both the hardware building and space environment testing of the small-scale satellites.
The multinational team is also building Sri Lanka’s first satellite, Raavana-1.
Mr Maskey is currently pursuing his PhD at Kyutech while the second Nepalese team member, Hari Ram Shrestha, is a representative of Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, a stakeholder of the BIRDS-3 project.
The technology and skills required for making of Nepal’s first satellite will most likely be used for any future satellite projects Nepal may come up with. “The technology used for nano-satellites and any other commercial satellites is basically the same,” Mr Maskey pointed out. However, “proper and diligent human resource” and “funding” are going to be two major challenges in this regard, he warned. He also pointed out that both depend on the success of the South Asian nation’s first satellite.The project, which is fully funded by the Government of Nepal through NAST, became possible only after “more than one year of constant pressure”, the researcher in the sphere of artificial intelligence on satellites told southasia.com.au.
According to Mr Maskey, JAXA will be conducting a series of tests on the satellites to ensure the satellites have been built to JAXA standards. It also wants to ensure that the machines do not pose any threat to astronauts living and working in the International Space Station (ISS).
The BIRDS-3 project team will hand over the completed satellites to JAXA on February 18 following which the latter would transport them as “cargo” to Orbital ATK, an aerospace company based in the United States. Orbital ATK will transport the Nepalese engineer-made satellite to the ISS. Once aboard the ISS, astronauts will physically deploy the NepaliSat-1. If everything goes according to plan, it will then be deployed into the orbit around mid-May this year.
Current project team is going to train a NAST employee in January for the Ground Station operation of the satellite. “The satellite is using Amateur UHF band so anyone with amateur radio license and equipment can actually receive CW and possibly data,” Mr Maskey said in a social media chat with southasia.com.au. However, any uplink into the satellite can only be done through the BIRDS Ground Station Network spread across the world.
Nepal spending $150,000 for the entire project which Mr Maskey called a “bargain” because it could potentially be much higher.
Representatives from NAST are due to participate in a hand-over ceremony due to be held next month. All three satellites will be handed over to the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
Mr Shrestha, the NAST representative in the development of Nepal’s first satellite, will also be working in the BIRDS-4 project to learn the whole system from beginning, Mr Maskey said.