The Philippines’ first university-built cube satellites (cubesats), Maya-3 and Maya-4, were released to space from the International Space Station (ISS) on at 5:20 p.m. on October 6 PST via Japan’s Japanese Experiment (JEM), or “Kibo” Laboratory Module, and are expected to begin operations soon. 

On October 7, one day after its release, Maya-3 and Maya-4 beacons “were successfully received and decoded” during their 9 a.m. pass remotely through the Philippine Universities Ground Archiving and Data Reception (Pugad) station in UP Diliman, the Space Technology and Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement (Stamina4Space) said in its online news release.

The cube satellites (black spot, center) in space.

The cubesats’ first contact was with the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) just more than an hour after its release, at around 6:51 p.m. on October 6.

“A beacon is like a satellite’s heartbeat which lets the team on the ground know that the satellite is alive and well in space.” the Stamina4Space said.

The released Maya-3 and Maya-4 cubesats are now moving along an orbit similar to the space station’s, which is at an altitude of approximately 400 kilometers. 

The deployment followed the cubesats’ launch to the ISS on August 29 at 3:14 p.m. aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket’s Dragon C208 as part of SpaceX Commercial Resupply Mission-23.

 Maya-3 and Maya-4 have been released from ISS along with other cubesats from Australia, the Biner-1 and Cuava-1, developed by Curtin University and the University of Sydney, respectively.

The BusinessMirror witnessed both the launching of the cubesats to ISS and the deployment to space.

Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña witnesses online the release of Maya-3 and Maya-4 to space.

‘Like a baby’s first cry’

With the cubesats already deployed in space, the Space Science and Technology Proliferation through University Partnerships (STeP-UP) Project Batch 1 scholars that created them said they can now begin testing their different functions.

Before the release, the team has prepared the schedule of activities for the ground station operations, including the sequence of the command uplinks for the cubesats.

The team will initially monitor the satellites’ condition by receiving and decoding its continuous wave beacons before sending commands for them to perform.

“It’s [going to be] like hearing a newborn baby’s first cry,” the STeP-UP scholars said.

The team has also coordinated with various ground stations internationally and locally to assist with the tracking of the satellites.

The engineers will likewise record and assess the satellites’ functionalities and collect data from them during the operations to evaluate their overall performance—to be used as reference in planning for future satellite developments and related projects, the news release said.

“The team is extremely excited now that Maya-3 and Maya-4 are orbiting Earth in space. As the first Philippine university-built satellites, this event marks a significant milestone in our country’s space science and technology initiatives,” they said.

It took the eight scholars two years of hard work in developing and testing the satellite.

At the same time, while monitoring the operations of Maya-3 and Maya-4, STeP-UP scholars will continue with its other projects: the Maya-5 and Maya-6 which are being developed by the second batch of scholars, said STeP-UP Project Leader Prof. Paul Jason Co. 

“Sustainability can be ensured by making sure that the knowledge gained from this is shared with as many HEIs [higher education institutions], as this ensures that there will be more people with the necessary knowledge to do the same,” he said.

“While launching cubesats would present some funding concerns, the knowledge about the development can still be learned without this,” Co added.

Historic day

The Maya-3 and Maya-4 were developed under the STeP-UP Project of the Stamina4Space Program, which is funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and implemented by the University of the Philippines Diliman and the DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI).

Maya-3 and Maya-4 were built by the first of two batches of STeP-UP scholars taking the nanosatellite development track under the Master of Science/Master of Engineering program of the UPD Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute.

The development of the cubesats is in collaboration Kyutech in Japan, with scholarship support from DOST-Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI).

“This is a very historic and important day, because the world has witnessed the deployment of the Maya-3 and Maya-4 cube satellites from the [ISS] to outer space. These two cubesats are the first Philippine university-built cube satellites developed by Filipino scholars,” said Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña in his message during the deployment program hosted by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa).

Stamina4Space Program Leader Dr. Maricor Soriano in congratulating the team also said: “Building and operating something as complex as a satellite requires meticulous planning, rigorous design and testing of systems, and lots of support. Thus, we thank the [DOST] for funding our program, the [Jaxa], and [Kyutech] for the Joint Global Multi-Nation BIRDS Satellite Project,” Soriano said.

“We look forward to gaining more confidence to innovate in this field in order to support our nascent Philippine Space Agency [PhilSA],” she said.

In his message, PhilSA Director General Dr. Joel Joseph Marciano Jr. said that in 2014, while they were beginning the development of small satellite technologies and applications, as the program leader of the Philippine Microsat Program and its successor, the Stamina4Space, he saw in the Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite or the Birds Project of Kyutech the spirit of community and cooperation that was a good match and complement to the Filipino core value of “bayanihan.”

“Different nations coming together to learn how to build satellites means that they will be helping each other, learning together through the ups and downs, and emerging from it with stronger ties and bonds that will serve them well for future cooperation,” Marciano added.

Images courtesy of Stamina4Space, Screenshot by Lyn Resurreccion and Screenshot by Lyn B. Resurreccion

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