Stars align for launch of NTU's satellites

Satellite Research Centre's Associate Professor Low Kay Soon (second from left) and research engineers (from far left) Abhishek Rai, Htet Aung and Chin Shi Tong with a scale model of a satellite.
Satellite Research Centre's Associate Professor Low Kay Soon (second from left) and research engineers (from far left) Abhishek Rai, Htet Aung and Chin Shi Tong with a scale model of a satellite.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Ms Chin Shi Tong applied for a job at a satellite research centre two years ago as the post was aligned with her interest in algorithms.

Two years later, with the stars aligned in her favour, the research engineer this week found herself watching the launch of space satellites that she had a hand in making.

The 25-year-old aerospace engineering graduate of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) had embarked on a space adventure after joining her alma mater's Satellite Research Centre.

There, she worked on three satellites, including the GPS mission planning for the Velox-C1 micro-satellite, which aims to get data to study Asia's tropical climate.

Velox-CI, together with the Velox-II, are NTU's fifth and sixth satellites since it started its satellite programme in 2009. Velox-II is the world's first low-orbit satellite, capable of relaying data any time and anywhere in space.

Both were successfully launched at India's Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Wednesday evening.

Ms Chin watched the launch from Singapore, and said it brought her a mix of excitement and relief, as she went through a fair share of scares in preparing the satellites.

"Once, while going through a test cycle, we found out that one of the resistors had been soldered the wrong way," she said. "It was only after looking through all the boards and drawings that we were able to find the cause of the problem."

The team also had to grapple with issues that surfaced only after the satellites were put through extreme temperatures and tolerance levels.

"But nearing the launch (date), we were confident because we knew we had done all the necessary tests, yet at the same time, (we were) cautious because it is always going to be unpredictable in space," said research engineer Htet Aung, 29, who is part of the Velox-II team.

Research engineer Abhishek Rai, 26, who designed the electric components for the Velox-II, said: "Once the satellite is launched, you cannot recall it and so your design has to be robust. Waiting to hear the satellite's first signal was nerve-racking."

Ng Huiwen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2015, with the headline 'Stars align for launch of NTU's satellites'. Print Edition | Subscribe