Nepal | June 18, 2019

First satellite launch, an opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge on space

Kaustubh Dhital/Prawal Lamshal

This Undated image shows Scientists working on NepaliSat-1, Ravan-1 and Uguisu, in Japan, in January, 2019. Photo courtesy: NAST

KATHMANDU: The Nepali science and technology sector is set to receive a welcome boost with the planned launch of a satellite within the next few months.

The Birds 3 program, an effort in collaboration with Sri Lanka and Bhutan, and with assistance from the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), will coordinate the launch of satellites into space.

Nepalisat-1, a Nepali satellite is a nanosatellite, meaning it falls in the category of satellites weighing between 1 to 10 kilograms (kg).

Nepalisat-1 will be put at the distance of 400 to 500 kilometres from Earth into orbit, with a lifespan of approximately 1 to 3 years, depending on how well the satellite could respond to conditions in space. This mission will help learn about any upgrades or changes needed to the equipment in order to better adjust to conditions in space, engineer at NAST and also project’s member of the Nepali contingent, Roshan Pandey said.

The satellite to be put into the orbit has dimensions of 10cm x 10cm x 10cm and will operate on a Very-High Frequency (VHF) level of around 400 to 500 Megahertz (MHz), with an approximate bandwidth of 26,000 Hertz (Hz). It will use a ‘Continuous Web Flow’ mechanism to establish communication and transmission with the ground station, engineer Pandey said. Running on a solar-powered battery, it will also have a camera to take geographic photos, and its printed circuit board (PCB) will have the names of the members involved in its making written on it. Also, the Global Positioning System (GPS) will have a flag of Nepal drawn on it, Pandey informed.

The scientists taking part in the program have expressed their belief that this program would increase human and environmental security by promoting improved governance of the delivery of information gathered from space systems in ways that promote its utility. Moreover, it would be helpful for the long-term aims and interests of the project for the satellite-related research by receiving a propitious signal from the satellite to our own ground station along with telemetry, image, and other mission data to the ground station, the scientists informed.

Likewise, those involved in the programme opined that this mission would aid in the formation of effective national and international space policies and laws both in established and emerging space nations. Engineer Pandey also sought to clarify that the satellite launch project was in the “research phase”, rather than being essential for gathering valuable data from the get-go, the project could facilitate future launches or missions.

As a ground station is being constructed to establish communication with the satellite, scientists from Nepal have been attending programs and classes in Japan to gain expertise on the mission. Pandey himself travelled to Japan on January 21 to attend a conference. Hariram Shrestha, a scientist from NAST, has been taking up study in Japan for the past few weeks to prepare for the mission, with coding and decoding in the transmission also being an area of learning.

Furthermore, Pandey said that the mission will be completed around the upcoming Nepali New year.

“At this moment, JAXA does not have the schedule to launch the satellite, but they will set in the next few months or so, and by February 15th we will most likely hand the satellite over to be launched”, Pandey assured. If in case there is a problem with the schedule, JAXA would hand it over to the USA and its Space Agency to be launched, Pandey remarked.

Pandey also highlighted that satellites will contribute greatly to data-sharing among the nations involved in the mission. When a satellite is above a particular country, it sends data and transmission to that country through the central server. From there, it is shared with other nations taking part in the mission. This way, nations are actively involved in data sharing which establishes a framework for cooperation among the nations. Pandey expressed his belief that the satellite launch will help generate public awareness and contribute to greater exposure of the astronomy, science and technology sectors of the participating countries, something that would gain public support and investment for other missions in future. The satellite may have to be verified and tested numerous times to ensure optimum operation. Therefore, the Birds 3 program acts as those baby steps, Pandey added.

It is now very much within Nepal’s capabilities to engage in data-sharing through satellites and conduct operations of larger satellites through much smaller ones. Public support, therefore, is very important in giving this sector the coverage, possible investment and encouragement it needs to develop even further.

The engineer said that it was a matter of great pride that Nepal would soon have a satellite in orbit, but it is not a monumental achievement in itself. It will act as a starting point for further research, development and progress for Nepal and so he urged people to remain actively versed on the matter.

For students, it is rather exciting to know that they will have access to gain first-hand knowledge on the matter.  For sure, this is the mission to “test the waters” per se; a platform that would initiate years of future study and analysis, and involve numerous tests and projects to make our own satellites as feasible as possible.

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