Sri Lanka takes its maiden leap into space | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka takes its maiden leap into space

7 July, 2019
Tharindu Dayarathna and Dulani Chamika adding the final touches
Tharindu Dayarathna and Dulani Chamika adding the final touches

Technology breaks through outwitting the pace of time to traverse the barriers of knowledge of the circumstances beyond Earth. The whole universe has set in to seem like a tiny virtual library where we have access even to monitor the objects in the outer reaches of space.

In terms of their constant experiments down-the-line, several countries have already clenched the pride of launching satellites and rockets to space into their fists. Being able to fall into that group of countries who hold such pride alone becomes a thing that gives goose bumps especially for a developing country like ours.

In this instance, two Research Engineers from Sri Lanka, Tharindu Dayarathna BSc. (Hons) Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Peradeniya and Dulani Chamika BSc. (Hons) Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand) possess the glory of designing, assembling and launching a Nano or (cube) Research Satellite to the orbit for the first time ever in Sri Lankan history. The Satellite was recently deployed to orbit on June 17, 2019 at 15.45 Sri Lankan time. It is named ‘RAAVANA - 1’ which symbolizes the Sri Lankan nation, heritage and history.

As explained by Sanath Panawennage, Director General, Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies (ACCIMT), this name is related to King Raavana and his ‘Dandumonara’ which initiated the notion of Aircraft Technology in the world history. Raavana -1 has officially come to existence since February 18 this year when it was handed over to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. After that it has been sent to the International Space Station on April 17 and was deployed to Space by Japan. On April 19, Raavana - 1 and other two cube satellites were delivered to the Japanese Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA) and carried to International Space Station using the ‘Cygnus’ cargo spacecraft of NASA.

BIRDS - 3 Project

This is a research project commenced in 2014 in Japan by the name of ‘Birds - 3’ including designing of two other Nano Satellites named Nepalisat - 1 and Uguisu from Japan along with Raavana - 1. This project is conducted by the Laboratory of Spacecraft Environment Interaction Engineering, Kyushu Institute of Technology, supported by United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). RAAVANA project is a sub project of Birds - 3 under which our satellite RAAVANA - 1 comes and this sub project has been implemented to improve the literacy of Spacecraft Engineering in Sri Lanka and its satellite technology project assistance for non-space-faring countries by Japan.

The most vital thing here is that we implemented a Nano Satellite project to take the very first step in building advanced large-scale satellites in Sri Lanka, to mould and prepare our engineers for such projects.

Joining hands with the Kyushu Institute in Japan which laid the foundation for the project, Sanath Panawennage has discussed and agreed to present them a Nano Satellite as the output of the project. The process was taken up early because at that point, the Kyushu Institute and the UNOOSA had organised a scholarship program collaboratively, to offer scholarships for two or three graduates in the relevant field from several developing countries to do their postgraduate in Spacecraft Engineering.

Missions and Phases

The process of designing a satellite has several key phases to go through as explained by Panawennage. Initially, the engineers have to have a ‘Mission Definition Review’(MDR) which defines the purpose as in what they are going to do with the satellite. The next phase is ‘Preliminary Design Review’ (PDR) when they decide the probability of bringing off their objectives and at this phase, they have to decide with what they are going to meet their purpose as well. Within the PDR stage they also do a test trial. Then in the ‘Critical Design Review’ (CDR) phase which is also called the ‘Engineering Model’, the satellite actually gets set up.

The next stage is about how to operate the satellite from the ground. Such type of operating includes operating, controlling and collecting data (Behavior Monitoring). The satellite is going above Sri Lanka four times a day. Raavana - 1 weighs 1.1kg and it is 400km above from Earth.

The satellite is expected to fulfill five missions including the capturing of pictures of Sri Lanka and its surrounding regions. It will have a minimum lifespan of one and half years.

LoRaModulation Technique – a new modulation that becomes a data communication technology for future projects. Experimenting on this technique under the circumstances of space is very important. This mission also supports in identifying whether the satellite’s attitude is stable under the influence of the external talks such as powerful x-rays and very high temperature.

Attitude Determination and Control System (ADCS) - reduces the speed when travelling in orbit.

Software Define Back plan- if some part of the satellite indicates an error, we’d be able to address the issue from the ground by altering the functioning of the particular part via specific software.

“The Kyushu Institute had two scholarships up for grabs. As Dulani had applied she was selected for the final 20 out of 1400 applications from around the world. Then I requested the Kyushu Institute to offer us one of the two scholarships so that we can work on the project and we promised them that its outcome would be a cube satellite. We involved a few engineers in the project with Tharindu taking the lead. They did a marvellous job in making the best use of their potential. Just by taking part in the project, the other engineers have also learnt a lot. Our missions are constantly in action so that knowledge gained by all the engineers who are involved in Nano Satellite projects, this is the main purpose, explained Panawennage.

Tharindu Dayarathna said, “This is not an individual project. I joined the project in 2017. They had started working on it in 2014. Dulani had applied and got selected for the project. The ACCIMT required another member for the project and they had sent an email to Aruna Gunawardana, Senior Lecturer, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Peradeniya requesting for a member for the project with the expected potential. I was a student of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at that time and Dr. Aruna had recommended me for the project and I got selected for it as well".

"The world is still fresh to the Nano Satellite era. So, we should have pride in grabbing the latest technology at the perfect time although during the past we were not there. Acquiring technology capabilities of this type in highly advanced areas is necessary for a country for its economic development. Therefore, this will be recalled as a critical juncture of space era in Sri Lankan history” said Kavindra Jayawardena, Director Communication Engineering, ACCIMT.

“I’m so grateful for the Kyushu Institute for counting on my words to design and deploy a cube satellite and offering us this wonderful opportunity. Along the way, we encountered many challenges such as administrative and financial issues. Sri Lankan engineers and scientists are not secondary to any other nation.

This is one such instance where they have proved it right” added Sanath Panawennage.