UAE's MeznSat
Image Credit: WAM

Dubai: The UAE’s first environmental nano-satellite, MeznSat, was successfully launched on Monday at 3.20pm UAE time aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome, a Russian spaceport located 800km north of Moscow.

MeznSat, funded by the UAE Space Agency and built by a team of 30 students from the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK) and Khalifa University of Science and Technology (KUST), is set to orbit Earth in November to study the coastal waters of the Arabian Gulf. Once in orbit, a team of students will then monitor, process, and analyse the data from the ground station in YahSat Space Lab at Khalifa University as well as a ground station in AURAK.

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Sarah Al Amiri

Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Technology and Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, tweeted after the launch: “We would like to congratulate all the students and professors on this great achievement. We are proud to see national capabilities designing, developing, and manufacturing satellites that will have an impact on UAE’s space sector.

“This program demonstrated the ability to complete long-term projects within an educational setup that provided the students a unique opportunity to apply their knowledge, including experience-based learning at universities provide students with the opportunity to work on real-life projects, mentored by professors and subject-matter experts from industry,” Al Amiri added.

MeznSat is the UAE’s third CubeSat, after Nayif-1 and MySat-1 that were launched in 2017 and 2018 respectively. A CubeSat is a miniaturised satellite used for space research that is made up of multiples of 10cm × 10 cm × 10cm cubic units. CubeSats have a mass of no more than 1.33kg per unit.

MeznSat, for its part, measures 10X10X30 cm. Its total payload – an infrared spectrometer 1,000-1,650 nanometers and RGB camera – weighs under 2.7kg and its orbital altitude is 575km above Earth.

"Climate change has widely been attributed to the increase in GHGs in the atmosphere as a result of human activities. The impacts of climate change are expected to include shortage of water quantity and quality in most arid and semi-arid areas, and low agricultural productivity throughout the tropics and subtropics, accompanied by damage to ecosystems and biodiversity in these areas, and changes in forests and other ecosystems. The State of the Environment (SoE) Report for Abu Dhabi highlighted key vulnerabilities associated with climate change, principally sea-level rise coastal flooding; increased salinity of coastal aquifers; impacts on the marine environment; heat stress; built environment impacts; more extreme weather events (floods, droughts, etc.); increased risk of dust storms; and risk from airborne contaminants (e.g. pesticides)," the UAE Space Agency said on its website.

"Carbon Dioxide and Methane are the two most prevalent Greenhouse gases. Both emissions (methane and carbon dioxide) have to be addressed and monitored in order to effectively reduce the impact of climate change. "As a result, the primary scientific objective of this project is aimed at exploring the performance of sensing in the shortwave infrared (SWIR) region (1000–1650 nm) to detect the levels of CH4, CO2, and H2O in order to derive the atmospheric concentrations of important GHGs. This mission follows the previous missions like CanX-2, SathyabhamaSat, etc.

"The secondary/tentative scientific objective is to predict algal blooms in advance. The performance of sensing in the shortwave infrared (SWIR) region (1000–1650 nm) in combination with the RGB camera will be explored to estimate the concentration of total suspended matter (as a proxy for nutrients in water) in the coastal waters of the Arabian Gulf to predict an algal bloom in advance, to facilitate precautionary measures."

Future plans

Dr. Arif Sultan Al Hammadi, executive vice-president at KUST, three more nanosatellites are being planned in the future. “The achievements of MeznSat showcase Khalifa University's dedication to enhancing innovation in sectors that are strategic to the UAE. Our students have the opportunity to contribute to these projects during their studies. Their research innovations will have a great impact on the future of the UAE’s space sector.”

Professor Hassan Hamdan Al Alkim, President of AURAK, added: “The MeznSat launch is a great achievement for the American University of Ras Al Khaimah and I am extremely proud of the dedication, effort and skill shown by the students. This moment is the culmination of three years of hard work and it shows the capability and professionalism of our students. The wise leadership of the UAE has placed the nation’s space program at the forefront of its vision for the future and this launch marks another achievement in this field.”