Dubai: A teacher is not just one who imparts knowledge. A teacher is also one who inspires, motivates, sets a goal and provides opportunities for students to excel and make a positive impact on their lives and on the lives of others in the years ahead. Dr Firas Jarrar, assistant professor and manager, Yahsat Space Lab (YSL), at Khalifa University is all of that and much more.
Honouring his work and his commitment towards bringing about a positive change in the lives of his students, the UAE Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai has included him as one of the ‘dreamers’.
Dr Jarrar is leading a team to inspire students to develop a love for engineering, using satellite research. For this purpose, he has put together a programme at Khalifa University’s Yahsat Space Lab (YSL) for students.
The MSc Space Systems and Technology programme at YSL brings together graduate students from all areas of engineering, including electrical, mechanical and aerospace. As a team of 20 or so, the students design, assemble, programme and test small satellites called CubeSats for launch into space. Once the satellite is in space, the team communicates with it and processes the data. “Unlike conventional satellites, which can be as big as a bus, CubeSats measure a mere 10x10x10 centimetres and weighs no more than 1.3kg. The downsized technology makes them less expensive to develop and launch — ideal for students’ laboratory work.
There have been four CubeSat missions, one of which was responsible for acquiring tangible information about the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases above the UAE by processing data from the Argus 2000 spectrometer,” Dr Jarrar said.
How students get involved in the programme
The programme designed for graduates helps students build satellites over a period of two years. “This is the reason why our project has been picked for demonstration at Expo 2020 Dubai. We work closely with students, supervise their activities — starting right from the conceptual design of the satellite. The students get to design, build and test the satellites they construct. It is a massive project and a massive opportunity for students. What is more, students also get to operate a satellite when it reaches its orbit. So, a big part of what I’m doing and what the programme is all about is of course academic, where the students get to learn about systems engineering and how to design a complete package of practical applications,” Dr Farrar explained.
Inspired by Carl Sagan
Dr Jarrar, who was born and raised in Amman, Jordan, said he was inspired by Carl Edward Sagan, the multi-faceted American astronomer, planetary scientist, cosmologist, astrophysicist — among other title holders. Sagan had assembled the first physical messages sent into space. They were universal messages that could potentially be understood by any extraterrestrial intelligence that might find them. “Taking inspiration is always great as it pushes you to dream. It sets a goal and makes you go towards achieving it,” he added.
Jarrar, who grew up watching the TV series ‘Cosmos : A Personal Voyage’, said so far, 50 students have graduated under the programme, nine of whom are from Bahrain. “These students are now ready to work in the space industry. A number of them have already joined space entities in the United States,” he said.
Advise to students
“Have perseverance. Do not give up on your dreams and goals. They are imperative to you scaling newer heights. The UAE has an ambitious vision for the space sector and it has been making great strides in this area,” Dr Jarrar said.
At the UAE pavilion
Providing further details about the infrastructure on display at the UAE Pavilion in Expo 2020 Dubai, Dr Jarrar said: “There are three satellite test pods on display at the UAE Pavilion.” The 2U CubeSat mass model is intended to be used for replacing the CubeSat in qualifying the testing setup and procedures. The test pod is dedicated to housing 1U CubeSats during vibration testing. It is designed in such a way so that it resembles the deployment pod.
Why have a dream for space exploration
“Pushing the boundaries of space technology leads to breakthrough applications for use on Earth. In everyday life, for instance, we have come to rely on satellites for things such as television broadcast and for GPS navigation in our cars and on our phones. But on a more monumental scale, the applications of satellites nowadays are closely related to what we are facing on Earth, such as detection of disasters [in advance] or warnings about impending changes in the environment,” explained Dr Jarrar.
“Enabling more students to apply their engineering expertise and know-how in new space ventures in the UAE and the rest of the world is what I’m looking forward to. They say sky is the limit. Our space dreams have no limit,” Dr Jarrar concluded.