Students from Las Musas High School in Madrid continue to make progress in the 'SpaceXyouth' project, promoted by the Embassy of Israel in Spain. Since its presentation last March, the students have been working on the nanosatellite which they have named "SpYsat Urania" (Sp for Spain; Y for Youth; sat for satellite; and Urania in honour of the muse of astronomy).
The students presented some of the progress they have made in recent months, as well as explaining the phases of work and the structure of the working group. The executive directors of 'The Muses and the Stars' highlighted this great opportunity that allows them a "very important and rewarding learning experience", as well as having "information and experience from important people in the sector". They also recalled that this institute is a public school in a neighbourhood of Madrid.
This project is controlled by Ana B. Heller, who holds a PhD in Physics and Astrophysics. "Anie", as she is affectionately called by the students, also holds a degree in Astronomy and a Master's degree in Geophysics and Planetary Sciences from Tel Aviv University. She has also worked in Israel's aerospace industry. "I'm an astrophysicist, an engineer, but I'm really a futurist," she says.
Besides this project and research, are you working on anything else?
Currently, the Croatian Space Agency is working on its first nanosatellite, and I am part of the Council Advisor. However, a project like this (SpaceXyouth) is very time-consuming. You meet with the kids twice a week, but there are a lot of things to monitor and check.
What is it like to build a satellite with young people?
Complicated aspects are explained in a simple way. You get to the general concept by easy means. The young people are very good with computers and simulators, maybe they don't know all the formulas that are inside the algorithm, but they know how to use it. Ways of doing this project are explained in an easy way, there are many things they don't know yet but they can't be taught now, they will see it later at university.
Are you satisfied with the students' involvement in the project?
Yes, with all of them. Although I think if you go somewhere else with other students this would also work well.
You supervise the calculations, but you also organise the structure of the project, which is based on the StartUps structure.
Yes, I did that in Israel as well. I organised it like a StartUp, with the same positions: executive, communication, marketing, logistics. The only thing is that I put a student and a student in the executive position. In addition, there are 4 working groups to build the satellite. Building nowadays means buying the parts and putting them together like a 'lego'. These parts are bought in different factories, there are many in Spain, even for the smallest satellites.
Are these tools very expensive?
It depends on the satellite, the bigger it is. For example, if it is a television satellite, you need very large antennas. Such large satellites are very expensive. Then there are satellites with cameras that are used to study the earth, water, agriculture, what is called earth observation. These can be smaller. Then there are GPS satellites, weather satellites and so on. Each has its own orbit and size. There are also smaller satellites than nanosatellites, which are up to 10kg. On the one hand, there are the pico satellites, which weigh less than 1kg, and the fentos, which weigh less than 100 grams. The latter take up very little space, so they are generally used for testing new technologies and are not very expensive. They are also used for university research.
The nanosatellite of these guys, in particular, is going to carry a pioneering technology of the future. We are doing things that will be applied years from now. When they start travelling to Mars, they're going to use things that the students have made.
Israel has long been researching and investing heavily in space. Why is space so important to Israel?
Israel needs space technology because it provides total independence of communication, of security. Israel would not exist without space technology, because it is essential for the country, not for attack, but for defence and observation. Space is indispensable for Israel, it is a strategic issue. It is a tool that allows you to be independent in the security field. On the other hand, space today is an excellent trade, there is a lot of money moving in the space market. Entering this market means profit. In third place is the topic of research. Space always pushes you to new things, to look for new technologies. And Israel is very good at this. Because it is always looking for new technologies, not only in space. Also in the field of education. A lot of people in recent years have gone to Israel to study science and technology, there was a time when people were going to study other things, law, accounting and so on. But now there is an increase in physics and other similar careers. Also, another positive aspect is that the number of male and female students is similar. But I stress that the most important thing about space for Israel is security, it's a matter of survival.
During the presentation of the project's progress, the students had the opportunity to talk to Yossi Yaman, CEO of the Israeli company SpacePharma. The company serves as a research tool for scientists, researchers and hospitals. SpacePharma explores ways to solve problems by taking advantage of space. "In orbit you can increase the crystallisation of a liquid, the molecules of an analysis can be seen in 3D, which would make it easier to detect a disease," explains Yaman.
So in space it's easier to find cures for diseases?
Yes. We are working on cancer research with children's hospitals in Israel and other countries. In orbit you can better understand the structure and combine healthcare with chemistry to find solutions to diseases.
How did the idea of creating SpacePharma come about?
I must say that I had some experience in space with satellites. When I had enough tools, I gathered 10 people to start this. We built the first application that can be controlled remotely from Earth. You don't need an astronaut. The main cost of having something in orbit is sending a person and we don't want to send anyone into space, we want to remotely control what happens there. We prefer people to enjoy this technology remotely.
The first experiments were done in 2017, and we proved that the technology was valid and that we had achieved the purposes. We now have five missions in orbit and next December we will send the sixth and in February 2022 the seventh. We see how young people, teenagers, students, children enjoy this aspect because so many things can be done. Moreover, this does not pollute, these are clean projects, it is also clean because we use solar energy. All this creates a miniaturised sustainable technology that can make our life on earth easier. Besides medicine, it can also help the food industry, as we are working on producing food that can be ready by March 2022.
How is SpacePharma financed?
It is a private company with investors from Israel and other countries. We are also backed by Israel's space agency and Space Florida.
Why is space so important for Israel?
It is important for several reasons. Israel is a very small and isolated country. So it is logical that we want to expand into space, an infinite dimension where you can get and use a "territory". On the other hand, the technology used in space is very innovative, and you can integrate different disciplines.
Finally, I would like to call on governments to invest more in the space sector. If car companies had to pay for roads, this industry would not exist, and the same goes for space. Space structures need to be facilitated.
In addition to SpaceXyouth, Las Musas High School has participated in a parallel project, also supported by the Embassy of Israel, aimed at middle and high school girls. 'She Space' aims to collect data on climate change by analysing satellite images. Two students from this school have received a certificate for participating in this project, which has also been developed in other countries such as Israel, Germany, Togo, Brazil, the United States, Peru and South Korea. 'She Space' is led by Dr Shimrit Maman, a scientist specialising in Remote Sensing at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Maman works with satellites that monitor the Earth, but also observe other planets such as Venus, Mars and Titan.
Recently, the IAF (International Astronautical Federation) has recognised Maman's commitment to diversity in science. The organisation presented the Excellence in Diversity Award to 'She Space' in Dubai.
This is the first time the Israeli doctor has met face-to-face with the students after months of video calls due to the pandemic. During her visit to the institute, she also gave a presentation of her work and showed a nanosatellite. Maman observes the earth from space through cameras with different sensors on satellites. It monitors crops and is even able to save lives by detecting hurricanes or tsunamis. These nanosatellites with cameras also make it possible to investigate remote places that are difficult to access.
What is your assessment of the 'SheSpace' project in this school?
At the beginning I think the students were a bit confused and even scared. But after months this situation has changed. Now they feel confident and I even think they are enjoying it. This project has a scientific and a technological part, but we are also working on networking among the girls and how to present in English and collaborate internationally. I think we have done a great job because the students are happy.
Do you think that in recent years girls are becoming more interested in science thanks to projects of this kind?
Of course they are. We are seeing that girls' interest is increasing. We have to address the misperception of women in science and technology. Girls are influenced by society, by some traditional ways of thinking and by the roles we are supposed to have. Normally, if a girl has a supportive environment or family she can go very far, but many others, even those who come from these families, at a certain point stop and think about what it means to be a woman in this sector, to be a mother, if this can affect her family. Girls of 14 or 16 should not be thinking about having a family yet, but we see how society influences them a lot. Therefore, with this project we also want to show that it is possible. In this project they worked mainly with female scientists, some of them are mothers and some of them are pregnant. This way they can see how they can deal with it.
The project presented by the students of the muses was a success. At the end of the programme they presented magnificent results of remote sensing applications of Madrid's pollution and air pollution and its relation to climate change. They realised that there are endless possibilities and that they can do much more than they think.
Photos: Embassy of Israel