A team made up entirely of young Emirati engineers. Image Credit: Twitter

Dubai: The launch of the KhalifaSat — the first Emirati-designed and built satellite — on October 29 will signal the beginning of a historic new space technology era in the country.

The UAE’s third satellite is set to outdo its predecessors.

■ Salem Al Merri

The KhalifaSat is an imaging satellite designed and built by Emiratis on UAE soil, specifically in the clean rooms of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Al Khawaneej. The project began in December 2013 and is scheduled for launch on October 29 in Japan.

Once in orbit, KhalifaSat will provide a high-resolution imagery of 0.7m in a Low Earth Orbit trajectory, meaning from an orbit 600km above the earth. Capturing the earth’s natural beauty in precise detail and accuracy is the satellite’s predominant mission.

Equipped with the latest in space and imaging technology, KhalifaSat will prove to be a powerful imaging tool, more agile than its predecessors: the DubaiSat-1 launched in Kazakhstan in 2009 and DubaiSat-2 launched in Russia in 2013.

“The launch is a very important project for MBRSC and the UAE, because it’s the first domestically designed and built satellite, completed in our clean rooms based in Dubai. This was a long-term vision by the leadership, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai. Its early cornerstones were set over 10 years ago in 2005, with the development of the DubaiSat-1 and Knowledge Programme,” Salem Al Merri, assistant director-general for Scientific and Technical Affairs at MBRSC, told Gulf News.

“It’s been a long journey and we see the rewards being reaped today. The launch will be a historic moment for the country,” he added.

Gamechanger technology

A team of more than a hundred Emirati engineers built the satellite from scratch, their endeavour lasting almost five years.

For this, the space centre’s headquarters had to be expanded to include a clean room facility, complete with testing equipment such as thermal chambers, electrodynamic shakers, and other environmental testing facilities for satellite development.

But the launch, Al Merri said, is just the beginning.

The KhalifaSat will be launched into orbit aboard the liquid-fuelled H-IIA rocket from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan, in partnership with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

“After the launch, we have a lot of work to do to complete the early operations and basically establish the ground connections and calibrate the sensors to receive imagery. Once that is done, we will then go into full operation for the next five to eight years. It’s an exciting time ahead,” Al Merri said.

The satellite’s powerful camera can take pictures from any target, from two different angles. This feature enables the generation of stereo pair images. It can also capture multiple targets located within 600km of the ground track, manoeuvring between targets.

The satellite can also take images up to 1,500km long and up to 36km in width, through an advanced control system that enables three consecutive imagings in one.

These images will be useful for environmental monitoring, to assess changes in the earth’s natural environment caused by human activity or nature. Urban planning will receive a boost through the KhalifaSat’s images, as data for planning land use on a national scale will be provided.

The images will also be helpful in disaster relief management, following in the footsteps of DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2. The satellite may also help detect the precise locations of ships in distress, providing relevant information such as direction and speed.

Lastly, the satellite’s images will also be useful in cartography and topography, to design and make detailed area maps for use in the UAE and worldwide.

KhalifaSat Details

■  Dimensions: Satellite shell
■  Under 2 metres in height x less than 1.5 metres in diameter
■  Total mass: around 330kg

Advanced Features

■  Enhanced digital camera
■  Faster download and communication
■  Advanced target positioning system
* Satellite positioning system
■  Automatic satellite control system