After two years of successfully completing its mission, Maya-1 flew back to the Earth’s atmosphere on November 23, 2020.

“Initially, the satellite was expected to stay in orbit for less than a year only, but it had stayed in orbit for about 2 years and 4 months,” said Adrian Salces, one of the Filipino graduate students who developed Maya-1, the country’s first nanosatellite.

Following the launch of Diwata-1 in 2016, Filipino graduate students Joven Javier and Adrian Salces have developed Maya-1. It is one of the three cube satellites (CubeSats) under the 2nd Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Project or BIRDS-2 Project of the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) in Japan.

The development of the CubeSat is under the Development of Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite (PHL-Microsat) program, a research program jointly implemented by the University of the Philippines-Diliman (UPD) and the Advanced Science and Technology Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-ASTI) in partnership with Kyutech in Japan.

Maya-1: Small but powerful

Named after the Philippines’ former national bird, the Maya (Chestnut munia), the Maya-1 CubeSat may be small in size but packed with scientific instruments that have been helpful for researchers across the country. 

One of the missions of the 1-unit (1U) CubeSat is the Store-and-Forward (S&F) System, where it collects data from ground sensor terminals within its footprint, saves it, and forwards the data to any member ground station.

The 10-cubic centimeter CubeSat also has an Automatic Packet Radio Service Digipeater, which can communicate with ham radios.

At the same time, Maya-1 carries two cameras, a wide-angle and a narrow-angle lens, which enabled the researchers to take various images of the Earth.

Maya-1 also contains a low-cost Global Positioning System (GPS) commercial off-the-shelf chip, and a magnetometer — a device used to measure the magnetic field in space. It can also log data corruption incidents due to space radiation through the Single Event Latch-Up mission.

Maya-1 was launched into space aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida in the United States on June 29, 2018. 

By August 10, 2018, it was deployed into space through the International Space Station’s Japanese Kibo Module together with two other CubeSats from Bhutan (BHUTAN-1) and Malaysia (UiTMSAT-1). 

Maya-1 Engineers Dr. Adrian Salces (left) and Engr. Joven Javier (right) with former STAMINA4Space Program Leader and Director-General of the Philippine Space Agency, Dr. Joel Joseph Marciano Jr. (middle).

More than just a scientific instrument

One of the things that Maya-1 has proven is the Filipino’s capacity to build our own CubeSats.

Aside from the technical aspects of developing CubeSats, we have learned the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to solving problems. Most importantly, we have learned that we CAN build our own CubeSats,” said Space Science and Technology Proliferation through University Partnerships (STeP-UP) Project Leader Paul Jason Co. STeP-UP is a graduate program with a nanosatellite engineering track housed within the University of the Philippines Diliman Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute (UPD EEEI).

Meanwhile, Salces said that their principal investigator and professor at Kyutech would remind them that the true success of the BIRDS project will not be determined by launching a perfectly working satellite in space, but the ability to apply what has been learned and replicate the entire process of satellite development in their respective countries.

“Following the hands-on training that students undergo while building the first CubeSat in Kyutech, local development of a second and next generation of satellites in the home country will be a compelling evidence that the project has achieved its intended goal,” said Salces.

“Maya-1 and the experiences therein specifically served as a model for utilizing CubeSat as a relatively more cost-effective platform for university-based space education and research in the Philippines,” he added.

Moreover, Maya-1 has been a platform for proliferating space science and technology applications to more Filipinos.

“We built something we can share. With the size and complexity of Maya-1, we have built something that we can replicate and proliferate to more universities, and eventually to high schools across the country,” said Philippine Space Agency Director-General Joel Joseph Marciano, Jr. 

“It was intended to and has become a platform for openly proliferating the technology of small satellites, and more importantly access to space for more Filipinos.”

Toward building more satellites

“Knowledge gained would be wasted if it is not utilized and made to grow. To keep the momentum and sustain growth in this field in our country, the knowledge gained must be freely shared to everyone interested in building their own programs to bootstrap capability building throughout the country,” said Co.

Filipino researchers have been continuously developing CubeSats. Maya-1’s successor, Maya-2, has recently been completed and turned over to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on September 24, 2020. 

A group of scholars under the STeP-UP Project is developing two new CubeSats, Maya-3 and Maya-4. The second batch of scholars, on the other hand, has recently begun their studies and the development of Maya-5 and Maya-6. 

“We look forward to the day where highschool students will be building the successors of Maya-1, where they will be developing and crafting their own missions and experiments in space through nanosatellites where they would feel that space belongs to them,” said Marciano.

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