TP students win space challenge
They stayed in school until midnight to study space concepts
With barely any knowledge in space-related technology, seven Temasek Polytechnic (TP) students designed and proposed the use of a separate orbital vehicle to connect hypothetical miniaturised cube satellites (Cubesats) in space.
The concept - and its creators from the diploma in aerospace engineering - won gold in the annual Singapore Space Challenge, organised by the Singapore Space and Technology Association, in February.
The team called themselves the Mercury Seven, in honour of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration's first group of astronauts. The seven were part of Project Mercury, an early programme to fly humans into space.
The students were competing against more than 20 other groups from various schools and walked away with $10,000.
The team leader, third-year student Shanmugam Surya, 20, said: "We knew we weren't going to settle for anything other than the grand prize. We are happy to have won."
This is the first time in a decade that TP has clinched the gold award at the Singapore Space Challenge.
This year, as part of the competition, students were tasked to design a way for Cubesats to be linked up while in-orbit.
Within five months, the TP team proposed the cubes be linked up physically, with the aid of a separate orbital vehicle.
Dubbed the "Transporter", the rectangular unmanned spaceship would push one Cubesat from one orbit into another orbit, attaching itself to another Cubesat. This would allow the Cubesats to be delivered to their appropriate locations without affecting the system's ability to test instruments and run experiments in space.
"We wanted to push ourselves to stand out. Our project had to be cost effective while being able to open doors to additional uses, such as constructing larger space systems," Mr Surya said.
The road to success was not easy. Unlike some other groups, the TP team had a steep learning curve, which saw them spend nights studying to understand the theoretical concepts needed to complete the project.
"We would meet and stay in school until midnight almost every day just to work on the project," Mr Surya added.
Nonetheless, he said the team was grateful for the experience.
They donated $1,000 of their winnings to the school as a gesture of thanks.
He said: "Our lecturers gave us a lot of moral support and feedback. We learnt about the power of perseverance."
Ms Sue Siew Chai, 52, course coordinator for aerospace engineering, said she saw potential in the group. "Space-related technology is not something that we actively cover in school, but the students were still interested and active during the workshops held by the organisers."
Ms Siew added that competitions like these make the students more appealing to future employers.
"It is awesome and amazing to see what these students can do," she said.