Lebanon hopes to launch its first nanosatellite into orbit by 2022, provided funding for the project is secured, said Louay Abdallah, general coordinator of the “CubeSat Technology Toward Developing the first Lebanese Nanosatellite” project.
Established by the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS) in partnership with the U.K.’s Crown Agents and Lebanon’s office of the minister of state for administrative development, and with funding from the EU under the Technical Assistance Facility program for Lebanon, the project is working to develop and ultimately launch Lebanon’s first nanosatellite.
Abdallah spoke to a group of space enthusiasts, eager students and astrophysicists at the closing ceremony of World Space Week held at Antwork Qantari last Thursday.
Described as “a satellite in a shoebox,” a nanosatellite has many educational and commercial applications, like remote sensing, terrain photography and monitoring atmospheric pollution. The project, currently in its infancy, holds much promise as the country takes its first tentative steps toward space.
“The project is intended to develop capacity building. The concept of ‘new space’ is to develop very small satellites at low cost and in a short time. Instead of a satellite costing hundreds of millions and taking 20 or 30 years to develop, we can, with as little as $250,000 up to a couple of million dollars, develop and launch a nanosatellite in two to three years,” Abdallah said.
The miniaturization of computer technology has allowed sophisticated electronics, batteries and scientific equipment to be squeezed into a shoebox-sized space for launch along with several other nanosatellites on a single rocket. It would weigh roughly 1.3 kg and cost as little as $80,000 to launch, Abdallah said.
“The EU is helping us with training and capacity building, by sending experts to train our local teams. There are 12 Lebanese universities participating; all have faculties of engineering or science. We have 42 of their brightest students taking part in eight teams, each led by their professor,” Abdallah said.
He said it was still early days and the teams were still developing their skills, but added that as a result of the initiative, the EU had renewed the TAF program for Lebanon and sent experts to train the local teams.
“The latest team to arrive was from the U.S. - two senior trainers, retired members of the Air Force labs and NASA, who delivered 12 days of training, eight hours a day, on how to manage a space program,” Abdallah said. “We haven’t been sitting around idle; we have already implemented a ground station in Mansourieh that can communicate with any nanosatellites in orbit,” he added. Expert training teams are also expected from Turkey, Spain and Italy.
Abdallah said the first satellite would be for educational and capacity-building purposes, but a planned second satellite would have serious commercial applications. “The EU only provides experts and consultants for capacity building, but we will need $300,000 in equipment. Unfortunately, we are now going through the worst economic conditions,” he said, adding they hoped to attract donors from abroad.
He said the teams would work with various ministries to define the mission of CubeSat, and insisted a 2022 launch date was realistic if funds were available. The missions could include photography of agricultural land, remote sensing, and measuring atmospheric pollutants.
Another World Space Week event was also held Thursday at the Lebanese University’s faculty of science in Hadath, comprising a public exhibition and space fair. Teachers and students, as well as professional astro-photographers and senior astrophysics professors, hobnobbed and shared their enthusiasm for all things space-related.
On display was a unique design of a drone-mounted telescope built by Habib El-Kak, a high school physics teacher, and his students.
“This design came out of a need for us to view clear skies from Beirut,” Kak said. “This drone allows us to fly the gyroscopically mounted telescope above the layer of clouds and dust where we can remotely control the telescope and point at what we want to see in the night sky.”
He said the group managed to achieve 90 percent stability of the drone platform, which could still be affected by gusts of wind. The drone was built locally, but the engines and propellers were sourced from abroad. The drone is guided by GPS and controlled from the ground. It can fly up to 2 kilometers high with a 20-minute flying time. “We are hoping to improve on the design to fly up to 10 kilometers high with a 30-minute flying time,” he added.
Ahmad Chaalan, a retired LU astrophysics professor, delivered a lecture on extraterrestrial life as part of the event. Chaalan is also national coordinator for the Lebanese committee for naming an exoplanet and its star that was set up by the CNRS.
Lebanon, along with many other countries, gets to name one exoplanet and one star. “To date we have received 150 suggestions from Lebanese on the naming of these worlds. A short video and an audio message will be aired on local television and radio to spread awareness of this project and encourage more people to submit names,” Chaalan said.
He spoke of the possibility of life elsewhere in our Milky Way galaxy and what the conditions would be for life, like water, an atmosphere, minerals and magnetism. But he stressed that the biochemistry of life in outer space could be very different from our own carbon-based life here on Earth. Extraterrestrials could well be nitrogen-based or phosphorous-based or even silicon-based life forms.
“For life to exist elsewhere in the universe, you need a hundred conditions to be met, and today, even scientists who are openly atheist accept that there has to be a supreme architect of the universe,” he said.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
Copyright © 2019, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.