UAE-Bahrain Nanosatellite Light-1 Arrives at International Space Station

Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Abu Dhabi/Manama—The UAE-Bahrain joint nanosatellite Light-1 has successfully arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on 21 December 2021. It was carried aboard a Falcon 9 rocket which launched the SpaceX CRS-24 commercial resupply mission from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US, at 14:06 UAE time.

Its successful arrival at the ISS is the culmination of a trailblazing partnership between the UAE and Bahrain and an achievement of cooperation between the UAE Space Agency, Bahrain’s National Space Science Agency (NSSA), Khalifa University of Science and Research and New York University Abu Dhabi.

It reflects the depth of bilateral ties between both nations, and the level of strategic partnership in all fields, including space, science and technology.

Light-1 will be subsequently re-launched into orbit around Earth during the first quarter of 2022 in cooperation with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It will then start the region’s first scientific mission to monitor and study terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs) from lightning storms and cumulus clouds. The data will be made available to the global scientific community.

Sarah bint Youssef Al Amiri, UAE Minister of State for Advanced Technology and Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, said: “I extend my congratulations to the teams who worked diligently together to design, develop, transport and launch our nanosatellite alongside key mission partners. Light-1 is a milestone for Emirati-Bahraini ties and a new chapter for our nation’s history in space. It reflects our efforts to exchange knowledge and expertise to stimulate cutting-edge research, scientific discoveries and human progress. I would also like to thank Khalifa University and the NYU Abu Dhabi for providing their world-class facilities to train team who worked on this landmark scientific endeavour. Capacity-building is a vital part of our efforts to stimulate our knowledge-driven economy and both universities have played a key role in empowering the next generation of talent.”

Eng. Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed, Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications and NSSA Chairman, said: “I extend my congratulations to HM King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince and Prime Minister, and to the UAE’s leadership on today’s achievement. Their support was a catalyst for this success. I commend the diligent follow-up of NSSA’s work by HH Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, National Security Adviser, Commander of the Royal Guard and Secretary General of the Supreme Defense Council. It has had a major impact on motivating NSSA’s staff and building new skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

He added: “This joint project started with an idea in 2018. It became a reality that carried Light-1 into space. Our joint nanosatellite will support global efforts to measure TGFs and advance our understanding of how they affect human health and aviation. The project is a model for scientific and technological cooperation, one that serves humanity by peacefully leveraging space for the good of humankind.”

Mariët Westermann, NYUAD Vice Chancellor, said: “It is a great honor for NYU Abu Dhabi to be part of such an important milestone for the UAE – the launch of the UAE-Bahraini CubeSat, Light-1. Our team who designed and built the scientific payload and will spearhead the scientific data analysis for the mission has worked incredibly hard over the past years, and in close collaboration with key institutions to write this important chapter in the UAE’s history in space. We are immensely proud of our research team, wish the mission great success, and look forward to the deployment of the satellite in orbit and seeing the first data downlinked.”

Dr. Arif Sultan Al Hammadi, Executive Vice-President, Khalifa University of Science and Technology, said: “The launch of KU’s fourth CubeSat, Light-1 Sat, marks another major milestone for the UAE, Khalifa University and our partners. We are pleased that KU’s efforts are supporting the UAE’s space sector and fostering future generations of engineers equipped with real-world skills and experiences to develop the kind of technologies needed to achieve the nation’s space exploration goals. The development and deployment of Light-1 Sat reflects our commitment to nurturing the country’s space exploration industry through our specialized academic programs, research centers, and collaborations that nurture competent human capital and innovative space technologies.”

Light-1 is a nanosatellite, but it is no different from other larger satellites in terms of the technology or technical expertise required to build or launch it. It is also a cube satellite that consists of three units and is often referred to as a 3U CubeSat.

Light-1’s gamma-ray detection system, designed and assembled with unique layout, and making use of state-of-the-art detection devices, is competitive with bigger satellites and can make an impactful contribution to the comprehension of TGFs. The Light-1 satellite, thanks to its innovative technology, might be the pathfinder of future and larger missions targeting gamma rays.

Light-1 makes use of ‘scintillating’ crystals – a scintillator is a material that emits light when crossed by a subatomic particle and some crystals are very good scintillators. The light emitted by the crystals is collected by sensors called photomultipliers and then processed by a dedicated electronic system. Although the single components can be sourced from specialized companies, the assembled detection system is unique to Light-1.

The impact of high-energy gamma-ray emissions on atmosphere, air traffic and human health, especially flight crews, will be studied. These rays can penetrate aircraft structures, and therefore the data of Light-1 will improve understanding related to radiation exposure.

The team that worked on the design and construction of Light-1 consists of 23 university students, including nine Bahraini students, and 10 Emirati students. Light-1’s name was inspired by HM King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain’s book, The First Light. It recounts key points in Bahrain’s history and the name symbolizes the country’s growth and scientific progress.