The University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) is now home to a pioneering research & development (R&D) laboratory for small satellites. Dubbed the “University Laboratory for Small Satellites and Space Engineering Systems” or ULyS³ES, the facility was inaugurated on 31 August 2019 in a ceremony attended by officials from UPD, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and partners from academe, government, industry and media. Located at the site of the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute (UPD-EEEI) in UP Diliman, ULyS³ES was built as part of the research program, “Development of the Philippines Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite” or PHL-Microsat (2014–2018) and its successor, the “Space Technology & Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement” or STAMINA4ASpace (2019–2023). The PHL-Microsat and STAMINA4Space programs are implemented by UPD and the DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI) with support from the DOST-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development and the DOST Grants-in-aid (GIA).

ULyS³ES (pronounced, yuˈlɪs iz or yoo-lis-eez) is intended to serve as an academic hub for interdisciplinary R&D and instruction innovations in space technology in the Philippines. Comprised of two buildings, ULyS³ES-1 and ULyS³ES-2, the laboratory enables engineering and science researchers to collaborate on the development of small satellites through relevant mission planning and the corresponding design, implementation and test of satellite bus and payload systems. The collaboration also aims to develop courses that can be incorporated in undergraduate or graduate curricula and subsequently replicated or adopted by other universities.

Facade of ULYS³ES Building 1 (or ULYS³ES-1), which houses a research lab, researchers’ shared spaces, and administrative spaces

The interior of the research lab located on the 5th floor of ULYS³ES-1

Dedicated spaces for R&D in small satellite technologies

Highlights of the facility include shared spaces for researchers and staff, laboratories, testing facilities as well as an exhibit area. The exhibit area showcases mock-ups of the 50 kg microsatellites Diwata-1 and Diwata-2, the 1 kg nanosatellite Maya-1, examples of electronic components developed for the small satellites, as well as other milestones of program for the information of visitors and guests of the facility.

STAMINA4Space PHL-50 Project researcher John Leur Labrador doing a demo and visualization of the Diwata-2A Engineering Model Setup

Gladys Bajaro, one of the STeP-UP scholars, explains the CubeSat communication subsystem

ULyS³ES-1 contains the equipment for functional testing of small satellite components and integrated systems, “clean booths” for small satellite assembly, a thermal vacuum chamber for space environment testing of nanosatellites, as well as rapid prototyping equipment. The ULyS³ES-1 laboratory also houses the Engineering Model (EM) of Diwata-2 and a Flight Model (FM) of Maya-1, which are functional replicas of the actual satellites that were deployed in space and used by STAMINA4Space researchers as testbeds for further experimentation and instruction. To better appreciate how these facilities enable the design and development process of small satellite systems, the researchers conducted a demo of the various components of small satellites such as the communication subsystem and image capture capabilities. Guests were also able to witness the visualization of Diwata-2’s actual behavior in orbit using the Diwata-2 Engineering Model table satellite setup.

STAMINA4Space OPTIKAL Project Leader Dr. Maricor Soriano explaining the OPTIKAL team’s activities in optical payload development and localization together with OPTIKAL Chief Science Research Specialists Dr. Andrew Bañas (middle) and Dr. Atchong Hilario (right)

Other highlights of the tour included a demonstration by the STAMINA4Space Program’s Optical Payload Technology, In-depth Knowledge Acquisition and Localization (OPTIKAL) Project, led by Dr. Maricor Soriano of the UP Diliman National Institute of Physics (UPD-NIP), of a prototype electro-optic camera payload for a small satellite.

STAMINA4Space GRASPED Project researcher Romer Aranas explaining how Diwata images are processed, archived and distributed to the public for free

The Ground Receiving, Archiving, Science Product Development and Distribution (GRASPED) component of STAMINA4Space also explained how satellites are tasked through uploaded commands and how acquired imagery and other data are then downloaded to the ground station, specifically through DOST-ASTI’s Philippine Earth Data Resource and Observation (PEDRO) Center. The raw data are then processed, archived and then made accessible online by the STAMINA4Space Program at no cost.

Inside the Full Anechoic Chamber located in ULyS³ES-2

The ULyS³ES-2 has a Full Anechoic Chamber (FAC) that is used to measure and test the radiation pattern of antennas. The first of its kind in the Philippines, it enables faster development cycle for a satellite’s communication system through (in situ) antenna measurements and performance verification of the onboard radios or transceivers. The efficient performance of antennas and radio systems is a crucial ingredient in ensuring the success of the satellite mission.

View of the Full Anechoic Chamber (FAC) from the control terminal outside 

“Command, control and communication will not be possible if the satellite’s antennas or radios fail and the FAC provides us with the means for testing the functionality of those critical subsystems”, says Ms. Keziah Bartilad, a member of the STAMINA4Space Program and manager of the FAC facility. The ability to perform these measurements locally is a much welcome development, according to representatives from local semiconductor and electronics companies and academic institutions who attended the inauguration.

“Apart from supporting academic research, the facility was built with local industry in mind as part of ensuring sustainability,” says Dr. Marciano. “There are companies in the Philippines that design, manufacture and test wireless communication systems and they can avail of the facility’s services,” he adds. During the tour, guests were able to witness the actual testing of an antenna system prototype built by a local company and hear from the company representatives about the benefits of the facility.

Researchers’ shared spaces at the 2nd floor of ULyS³ES-1

Both buildings are also fitted out with offices for researchers, students and staff, meeting rooms and other shared spaces that were designed to provide an environment conducive to collaboration. The spaces also support instructional activities, such as the implementation of the nanosatellite engineering track and scholarships in the Master of Science (MS) and Master of Engineering (MEng) in Electrical Engineering (EE) programs of UPD-EEEI being implemented by the Space Science and Technology Proliferation through University Partnerships (STeP-UP) component of the STAMINA4Space program.

DOST, UP and the STeP-UP scholars on a live video call with Filipino scholars in Tohoku University and Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) in Japan.

Sustained support for local space technology development

In his message, DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña noted the timeliness of the inauguration of ULyS³ES in view of the recent passage of the Republic Act №11363, which marks the creation of a Philippine Space Agency. He affirmed the agency’s support in space initiatives — as stated in a recent press conference — with the DOST having invested a total of approximately P7.48 billion on space-related research and development over the past 10 years, which includes 15 space-related programs and projects implemented by different universities

and agencies across the country. DOST-PCIEERD Executive Director Dr. Enrico Paringit and DOST Undersecretary for Research and Development Dr. Rowena Guevara echoed their support, having witnessed and been closely involved with the growing number of space initiatives under DOST.

Key UP Diliman officials such as Chancellor Michael Tan, Vice Chancellor for Research and Development Fidel Nemenzo, UP-EEEI Director Dr. Michael Pedrasa, and College of Engineering outgoing Dean Dr. Rizalinda De Leon also shared their messages of support and enthusiasm over this new addition to the university. The program was hosted by Dr. Marc Talampas and Engr. Paul Jason Co of UPD-EEEI, project leaders of the STAMNINA4Space component projects, PHL-50 and STeP-UP, respectively.

DOST-PCIEERD Executive Director Dr. Enrico Paringit (right) handing over the functioning Maya-1 replica to Dr. Marciano, Jr. (left) in a quick turnover ceremony

Left to right: Dr. Michael Pedrasa (Director, UP-EEEI), Dr. Rizalinda De Leon (outgoing Dean, UP Diliman College of Engineering), Dr. Fidel Nemenzo (Vice Chancellor for Research and Development, UP Diliman), Dr. Giovanni Tapang (Dean, UP Diliman College of Science), Dr. Michael Tan (Chancellor, UP Diliman), Dr. Joel Marciano, Jr. (Acting Director, DOST-ASTI and Program Leader, STAMINA4Space), Hon. Fortunato de la Peña (Secretary, Department of Science and Technology or DOST), Dr. Rowena Guevara (Undersecretary for Research and Development, DOST), Dr. Leah Buendia (Assistant Secretary for International Technology Cooperation, DOST), Dr. Josette Biyo (Director, DOST-Science Education Institute) and Dr. Enrico Paringit (Executive Director, DOST-PCIEERD) officiating the ribbon-cutting.

By establishing a physical environment for space R&D, ULyS³ES also aims to encourage and inspire students to pursue careers in science and technology. While abbreviated out of practicality (after the eponymous Latin name of the Greek hero Odysseus in Homer’s epic poem, Odyssey), Dr. Marciano shared that the name “ULyS³ES” might just as well have been inspired by the legendary Greek hero’s travels — likening our foray into space technology to an adventure or journey.

“(An epic journey) beset by challenges but also profuse with opportunities,” he said. “Like Odysseus who wanted to come back home and toiled for ten years after fighting the Trojan war, our scholars — who were ‘sent to battle’, yearned for home as well. Not just to reunite with their families, but also to find a home for the application of their training. That academic home is ULyS³ES.”

Learn more about ULyS³ES.

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