Space is their frontier

Meet TP’s Mercury Seven, from left: Yue Keng Mun (co supervisor), Mohd Dhanish, San Tin Aung Lu, Hur Sin Haeng, Shanmugam Surya (team leader), Kim Hyun Ji, Mohd Fiqrie Bin Rohaizad, Sue Siew Chai (main supervisor) and Foo Yong Sheng.

They Have Reached the Stars!
by Ashraf Aris

Ask our seven TP Aerospace Engineering students who participated in the Singapore Space Challenge and they’ll tell you that it is a marathon rather than a sprint.

Calling themselves the Mercury Seven, in honour of the seven American astronauts who piloted the manned spaceflights of the Mercury program in the 1960s, they went up against over 20 other groups from various secondary schools, polytechnics and universities.

Their mission? Come up with a working concept to dock and link up at least three cube satellites (CubeSats), each measuring approximately 10 x 10 x 10 cm, while in orbit.

In early February 2018, after many months of dedication and hard work, they did themselves and TP proud by crossing the finish line and receiving the competition’s Gold Award!

“Unlike past Singapore Space Challenges, where there were multiple categories and each with its own grand prize, this year, the challenge only featured a single category to compete in,” said team leader, Shanmugam Surya.

“During the awards ceremony, a video showcasing the work of all the teams was screened. When I realised how good the other projects were, I would have been content to settle for the Merit prize. So you can just imagine the joy the team and I felt when Mercury Seven was announced as winners!”

Their winning solution

The team had to overcome a major hurdle early on when they discovered that their original idea of equipping the CubeSats with subsystems was impractical due to its small size and limited specifications.

So they went back to the drawing board and came up with an idea to design and develop a separate orbital vehicle, dubbed the ‘Transporter’. Through this innovative approach, not only would the CubeSats get delivered to the required locations in orbit but more importantly, its systems would be left untouched to execute its true purpose of testing instruments and running scientific experiments.

“That was just one of the many challenges we had to face,” said Surya.

“Our lack of expertise in the field of space technology also meant we had to spend a significant portion of our time just trying to understand and master the theoretical concepts and mathematics behind some of these space-based subjects!”

In order to build on their limited knowledge, the team stocked up on various math and astronautics textbooks, watched online videos and tutorials to get clearer perspectives and made use of NASA’s freeware orbital simulation software.

Surya is also grateful for takeaways he gained from the competition.

“I believe the competition has instilled many core values that would greatly aid us in our future careers. We’ve also gained useful technical knowledge and learned to be more open and creative,” he said.

“But above all, we learned to be comfortable to accept change, which is especially important in an evolving aerospace industry, where we, as aerospace engineers, are expected to adapt quickly and solve problems within a specific timeframe.”