Meeting one of the brains behind the PH nanosatellite Maya-2

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    The three nano satellites of BIRDS-4 (Photo from UP-COE / Kyutech)
    PH’s new nanosatellite recently deployed in space helped designed by a Mapúan

    BIRDS-4 is not the name of a superhero’s flying headquarters, but it could very well be. Part of the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) engineering program, it is an interdisciplinary satellite project for non-space faring countries. It has everything that makes it the real-world mirror image of an animation sci-fi—it’s Japanese that’s gone international, highly technical, full of promise, and oozes with out-of-the box thinking.

    The BIRDS project creates cube satellites (CubeSat). The academic collaboration teaches participants how to design, develop, and operate 1U CubeSats. The knowledge and experience that participants gained in the project could in turn be passed on when they return to their respective countries.

    For BIRDS-4, the second of two which the country had participated in, included Maya-2 CubeSat of the Philippines, the GuaraniSat-1 CubeSat of Paraguay, and the Tsuru CubeSat of Japan collaborating.

    Maya-2 had major help from Filipino students, engineers and scientists coming from different Philippine universities and agencies following the earlier successes from the Diwata-1 and Maya-1 satellites launched in 2016 and 2018, respectively. It was just launched into space just last month and released into orbit from the International Space Station (ISS) just last March 14.

    Electronic wizardry

    Major electronic wizardry for the Maya-2, which is piloted under the Stamina4Space Program by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the University of the Philippines Diliman, came from Mapúan Engr. Marloun Pelayo Sejera.

    Engr. Sejera at Kyutech’s Center for Nanosatellite Testing (CeNT) facility. (Photo by Mark Angelo Purio)

    Sejera is a Mapúa University Electronics and Communications Engineering (ECE) alumnus, is already involved in building two more nanosatellites.

    He is one of the three brilliant Filipino minds behind the creation of the Maya-2, together with Izrael Zenar Casople Bautista and Mark Angelo Cabrera Purio. Maya-2 is the country’s second nanosatellite launched for the International Space Station (ISS) last February 2021 under the fourth Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite project (BIRDS-4 Project).

    “I was filled with pride watching Cygnus-15 spacecraft carrying our satellites launched last February 21. It was a relief when Cygnus-15 successfully docked the ISS,” Sejera shared.

    Specifically, Sejara was in charge of building the communications subsystem for the nanosatellite as well as its Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS).

    An APRS is a radio-based system that encodes real-time digital information transmission. The communications subsystem makes sure that the nanosatellite has a reliable communication transmittal with ground stations ensuring continuous satellite missions.

    Where it started: Mapúa

    Sejera shared that his learning experience and academic life in Mapúa University, equipped him with the necessary training and developmental skills in building Maya-2.

    “Mapúa has been very supportive and involved from the beginning of my career in nanosatellite development. They opened the opportunity for me from teaching to being one of the Philippine delegates in Small Satellite Mission workshop in India, and now my involvement in the BIRDS-4 Project,” Sejera said.

    In November 2017, Sejera was invited as a Philippine delegate to attend a short course on Small Satellite Mission held at Dehradun, India. This was funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

    This workshop further piqued the interest of Sejera in satellite development and gave him a clearer point of view of what he wanted to pursue with regards to his graduate studies.

    He was then able to join the BIRDS-4 Project in 2018, with the University serving as his stepping stone.

    In early 2018, Mapúa was informed about the capacity-building initiative of the Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite Program (PHL-Microsat), wherein three Filipinos would be chosen to be sent to Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) in Fukuoka, Japan.

    Space, and the huge opportunity

    Sejera felt that the opportunity came right on time, so he applied immediately for the program and underwent a careful selection process. He shared that he was fortunate enough and truly honored to be selected as one of the delegates to represent the country.

    The Maya-2 CubeSat. (Photo by Mark Angelo Purio)

    The program gave the participants the opportunity to study Space Engineering and build the Philippines’ second CubeSat through the BIRDS-4 project, which is now known as the Maya-2.

    “The support that I got from Mapúa is very essential in pursuing my doctorate at Kyutech. Having been involved in the project, Mapúa will be able to participate in the dissemination of space, science and technology, and satellite development in the country,” he added. 

    The BIRDS-4 Project

    The country first joined in the BIRDS-2 project resulting in Maya-1, developed and deployed in 2018.

    The BIRDS-4 project kicked-off on November 2018 with a team composed of 14 students from different countries: three participants from the Philippines; two from Paraguay; four from Japan; one from Nepal; one from Turkey; one from Sudan; one from France; and one from Egypt.

    Sejera pointed out that under the program, he and other participants were able to deliver a number of satellites to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in October 2020.

    “Despite the cultural differences and work habits, the team was able to work harmoniously toward a common goal,” Sejera explained.

    We can surely expect more brilliant minds to crop up in the coming years, as the Filipino spirit remains to persevere, resilient, passionate, and driven. These traits and attitudes will surely help Filipinos excel further and leave their marks in society.

    “Think outside the box and expand your horizon. As the great Albert Einstein said, ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them’,” he concluded as he expounded on how the mission allows the satellite to capture data transmitted from ground sensors and send to ground stations for data analysis.

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