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UAE-Bahrain Nanosatellite Light-1

Abu Dhabi: The UAE-Bahrain joint nanosatellite Light-1 has successfully arrived on Tuesday at the International Space Station (ISS).

It was carried aboard a Falcon 9 rocket which launched the SpaceX CRS-24 commercial resupply mission from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, US, at 14:06 UAE time.

Its successful arrival at the ISS is the culmination of a trailblazing partnership between the UAE and Bahrain and an achievement of cooperation between the UAE Space Agency, Bahrain’s National Space Science Agency (NSSA), Khalifa University of Science and Research and New York University Abu Dhabi, according to a press statement issued on Tuesday. It reflects the depth of bilateral ties between both nations, and the level of strategic partnership in all fields, including space, science and technology.

Gamma-ray flashes

Light-1 will be subsequently relaunched into orbit around Earth during the first quarter of 2022 in cooperation with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It will then start the region’s first scientific mission to monitor and study terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs) from lightning storms and cumulus clouds. The data will be made available to the global scientific community.

Light-1 mission

Light-1 makes use of ‘scintillating’ crystals — a scintillator is a material that emits light when crossed by a subatomic particle and some crystals are very good scintillators. The light emitted by the crystals is collected by sensors called photomultipliers and then processed by a dedicated electronic system. Although the single components can be sourced from specialised companies, the assembled detection system is unique to Light-1.

The impact of high-energy gamma-ray emissions on atmosphere, air traffic and human health, especially flight crews, will be studied. These rays can penetrate aircraft structures, and therefore the data of Light-1 will improve understanding related to radiation exposure.

Exchange knowledge

Sarah bint Youssef Al Amiri, UAE Minister of State for Advanced Technology and Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, said: “Light-1 is a milestone for Emirati-Bahraini ties and a new chapter for our nation’s history in space. It reflects our efforts to exchange knowledge and expertise to stimulate cutting-edge research, scientific discoveries and human progress. I would also like to thank Khalifa University and the NYU Abu Dhabi for providing their world-class facilities to train team who worked on this landmark scientific endeavour. Capacity-building is a vital part of our efforts to stimulate our knowledge-driven economy and both universities have played a key role in empowering the next generation of talent.”

Eng. Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed, Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications and NSSA Chairman, said: “This joint project started with an idea in 2018. It became a reality that carried Light-1 into space. Our joint nanosatellite will support global efforts to measure TGFs and advance our understanding of how they affect human health and aviation. The project is a model for scientific and technological cooperation, one that serves humanity by peacefully leveraging space for the good of humankind.”

Important chapter

Mariët Westermann, NYUAD Vice Chancellor, said: “It is a great honour for NYU Abu Dhabi to be part of such an important milestone for the UAE — the launch of the UAE-Bahraini CubeSat, Light-1. Our team who designed and built the scientific payload and will spearhead the scientific data analysis for the mission has worked incredibly hard over the past years, and in close collaboration with key institutions to write this important chapter in the UAE’s history in space.”

Another milestone

Dr Arif Sultan Al Hammadi, Executive Vice-President, Khalifa University of Science and Technology, said: “The launch of KU’s fourth CubeSat, Light-1 Sat, marks another major milestone for the UAE, Khalifa University and our partners. Light-1 is a nanosatellite, but it is no different from other larger satellites in terms of the technology or technical expertise required to build or launch it. It is also a cube satellite that consists of three units and is often referred to as a 3U CubeSat.”

The team

The team that worked on the design and construction of Light-1 consists of 23 university students, including nine Bahraini students, and ten Emirati students. Light-1’s name was inspired by HM King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain’s book, The First Light. It recounts key points in Bahrain’s history and the name symbolises the country’s growth and scientific progress.