A hand in Singapore's first satellite of its kind

The satellite and natural resources industries, which the Economic Development Board is nurturing, are growth areas with good career prospects. In the sixth of a seven-part series, Arti Mulchand talks to three people - one involved in making a satellite and two who deal with natural resources.

There were always tools to tinker around with when Ms Grace Parn was growing up.

Her grandparents ran a machining workshop and her parents, with their engineering backgrounds, loved assembling Ikea buys; so there was always something to play with.

It fuelled the young girl's fixation with how things worked.

"I became fascinated with fast vehicles, like sports cars and planes, and megastructures, and admired the mechanics of big machines," says the 27-year-old senior engineer at ST Electronics (Satellite Systems).

Her playground now extends beyond planet Earth. She is part of a multi-disciplinary team of 70 which is building TeLEOS-1.

This is the first made-in-Singapore commercial Earth observation satellite, to be launched into space next year.

From its near-equatorial orbit, it will provide images that could help monitor maritime activities, among other things.

For Ms Parn, who joined ST Electronics in 2011, it has been a four-year journey to ready the satellite and ensure its safe launch and performance while in space.

The seven-strong structure and mechanical team to which Ms Parn belongs is responsible for building everything from the structures that hold the satellite's camera and communication systems in place, to those that keep its electronic components secure.

Three models are involved in the building of a satellite.

First comes the engineering model, which separately tests the structural and electronic components, and then a combined qualification model, which is pushed to test the limits it can withstand.

The third is the flight model, which will be launched.

Ms Parn earned a Diploma in Electronics (Aerospace) from Temasek Polytechnic in 2007.

However, it was while doing her honours degree in aerospace engineering at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology that space began to interest her.

In one project, her team came up with a conceptual design and mission plan to send two people to a near-Earth asteroid. "We did some calculations on how they would reach the target location and survive once they were there. It was fascinating," she recalls.

Today, her role in building TeLEOS-1 continues to feed that fascination despite a project timeline that has spanned her career to date.

"You have to find joy in the small successes throughout the project. Unlike many other industries which can be quite set in their ways, space technology is always evolving, so there is always room to grow," she says.

So what happens after TeLEOS-1 blasts off?

She laughs and says: "I can't wait to send more things into space."

This article was first published on Nov 17, 2014.

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