SpaceX brings Philippines' Maya-1 cube satellite to ISS

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 29 2018 11:58 PM | Updated as of Jun 30 2018 07:12 AM

MANILA - The PHL-Microsat program achieved another milestone on Friday.

The 10-cubic-centimeter Maya-1, which is small enough to carry in one hand, was brought aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS 15, which made its way to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday afternoon (Manila time) for a resupply mission.

Students and engineers at the University of the Philippines-Diliman (UPD) Electrical and Electronic Engineering Institute (EEEI) joined in on the countdown as they watched the live airing of the rocket launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Maya-1’s creators, graduate students Joven Javier and Adrian Salces, watched on from their classroom at the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) in Japan. Both are Filipino scholars under the PHL-Microsat program. 

They are part of the 11-person team, composed of graduate students from the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia and Bhutan, that made three cube satellites under Kyutech’s 2nd Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Project. 

Before the rocket launch, the two engineers spoke to ABS-CBN in an exclusive interview.

Since Maya-1 is 100 times smaller than Diwata-1, the first Filipino-made micro satellite launched in 2016, it has different capabilities, according to Salces.

“Basically ang camera ni Maya-1 hindi siya dedicated to Earth observation. More of experimental testing of commercial apparatus,” Salces explained.

It could be recalled that Diwata-1 was created to capture satellite images of the country, including areas badly hit by supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan). 

Meanwhile, because of Maya-1’s limited size, Salces said it serves as “a cost effective educational platform to train [Filipinos] how to make satellites.”

Maya-1 uses several off-the-shelf chips or commercial components the team deemed safe for space use. If it works, it will prove that people can make satellites from cheaper components.

Maya-1 and its sibling cube satellites from Malaysia and Bhutan will also be used to test communication relay capabilities of cubesats through Automatic Packet Radio Service Digipeaters.

“Puwede tayong mag-launch ng constellation of satellites,” Javier said. “Pag may bagyo, may communication tayo. Bagsak lahat ng cellular service, magagamit 'yun as a relay.”

Maya-1 also has a Global Positioning System chip and a magnetometer to measure the magnetic field in space.

According to Salces and Javier, they will be returning to the Philippines to teach fellow Filipinos how to make satellites. Already in the pipeline of PHL-Microsat is a satellite that is made in the Philippines. 

At the same time, the two engineers will be waiting for the first week of August, when Maya-1 starts orbiting the earth. It should be operational for the next six months.

“It’s a milestone for us,” Dr. Joel Marciano Jr., program leader of PHL-Microsat, told media after the event.

Marciano said cube satellites are just data-collecting “computers that happen to be in space.”

“If you want to participate in future…We need to have these technologies,” he said as he talked about future plans for space engineering.

According to Dr. Marciano, the cost of making and launching the Maya-1 into space is around 100,000 to 150,000 U.S. dollars. 

Before the year ends, PHL-Microsat, a joint research program of the Department of Science and Technology - Advanced Science and Technology Institute and the University of the Philippines, hopes to launch Diwata-2 into space.