One of the most interesting presentations at Map Malaysia last week was from Norhizam Hamzih, the general manager of Astronautic Technology Sdn Bhd of Kuala Lumpur.

ATSB is the prime contractor on Razaksat-1, a new satellite owned by the Malaysian government. It is the second satellite produced by ATSB for the Malaysian government. The first, Tiungsat-1, was launched in 2000.

Razaksat will be launched from Omelek Island, Marshall Island, using the Falcon 1 launch vehicle. It is due up in June 2007. Razaksat was originally planned for launch early this year, but delays in the development of the Falcon have caused this date to be set back.

The Razaksat program has cost the Malaysians RM60 million (about US$17 million).

Mission operations of Razaksat will be conducted at the mission control ground station run by the Malaysian National Space Agency (Ankasa) in Banting, Selangor.

There is much that is noteworthy in the Razaksat project. At 150 kg, it will offer 2.5 metre resolution in its pan mode, about the same as Spot-5, but at a tenth of the price and mass.

It is an example of the impact of highly integrated electronics on satellite design.

Even more interesting, Razaksat will be placed into a novel orbit. Its orbit will be inclined only nine degrees to the equator.

Normally, remote sensing satellites orbit near 90 degrees. This way, the satellite flies over every spot on Earth, sooner or later. However, the time between visits is measured in days.

Razaksat will only see the equatorial regions, but it will see them often. Its orbit will bring it within sight of any given point every 100 minutes.

Hamzah says this is to optimise the potential for optical remote sensing in such a cloudy part of the world. He says their estimate is that any given point under the Razaksat orbit will be obscured by cloud about 80 per cent of the time. The point of the orbit is to exploit the other 20 per cent.

Classic remote sensing satellite orbits do not do this, so it can be months, even years, between the coincidence of a cloudless scene and an available satellite.

Given the constraint of the orbit, ATSB is anxious to get as many users as possible in equatorial countries. ATSB made an Announcement of Opportunities last month, under which ATSB will co-operate with researchers both inside and outside Malaysia to develop applications for Razaksat data.

According to Malaysia's deputy Science, Technology and Innovations Minister, Datuk Kong Cho Ha, the same satellite would have cost ten times more if it had been imported from another country.

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(This page last modified on 17 May 2006)