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Local researchers aiming for the stars.

Summary: For the first time since Manoug Manougian and his team at Haigazian University looked to launch Lebanon above the heavens over 50 years ago, the spark of Lebanese aerospace aspirations has again ignited.

BEIRUT: For the first time since Manoug Manougian and his team at Haigazian University looked to launch Lebanon above the heavens over 50 years ago, the spark of Lebanese aerospace aspirations has again ignited. This time around, Lebanon's soaring ambitions are starting out in decidedly smaller packages.

They kicked off Tuesday with a workshop on CubeSats - tiny cube-shaped satellites about the size of a large pomegranate.

The workshop was the first event for a project billed as the country's "first step toward enhancing space research in Lebanon" by Mouin Hamze, secretary-general of the National Council for Scientific Research or CNRS, the state's primary scientific body.

Funded with 5 million euros ($5.6 million) from the European Union, the project will encompass 35 days of training in CubeSat design, ground station operations and space program management, as well as building a brand new ground receiving station and creating a research and development unit at CNRS and a Lebanese National Space Committee under the prime minister's office.

By the program's completion in October, Lebanon will be ready to set out to design, build and launch the country's first-ever satellite.

The project has been met with enthusiasm in Lebanon's scientific community. As of Tuesday, some 49 researchers had signed up for training, said Ghaleb Faour, the CNRS point person for the project and the director of the CNRS' National Center for Remote Sensing. But, he added, seats are still available for interested scientists and engineers.

One of the main ideas behind the project is to bring researchers together. "If you go to universities [in Lebanon] you will find many researchers, but they're not working together," he told The Daily Star. But in a space program, you need input from a spectrum of disciplines - from mechanical and electrical engineers to chemists to geographic information specialists to, of course, aerospace engineers.

What might these researchers design? The sky is the limit.

Lebanon's CubeSat could work in communications, geospatial data or any number of other fields - or combinations of fields - to solve problems facing the country.

Faour listed several potential issues a CubeSat could help measure and mitigate: urban expansion, coastal vulnerabilities and risks from floods, fires and landslides.

"Space technology can play a crucial role in addressing the complex and diverse challenges which face us all, ranging from natural disasters to the devastating impacts of climate change," he told the crowd gathered at Tuesday's launch.

The satellite program could be instrumental in disaster prevention, according to Mami Mizutori, the special representative of the United Nations secretary-general for disaster risk reduction. Benefits to the country's telecommunications system could "in turn ... be of great use in strengthening early warning systems through mobile phone networks and other channels," she said.

"Application of this new technology will also improve risk profiling thanks to the quality of satellite Earth observation data, which will be available to urban planners and those monitoring climate conditions across the country," Mizutori added.

Beyond the on-the-ground reasons for the project, Hamze made a moral case for space research.

"When people ask, 'Why do this when we don't even have electricity?' I respond, well, every Lebanese uses a cellphone," he told The Daily Star. "Every Lebanese should not just be a user of the technology, but a producer of knowledge."

And ultimately, that knowledge production could prove lucrative by "boost[ing] the innovative ecosystem, enabling the expansion and the creation of new job opportunities," according to Faour.

This speaks to a higher purpose for the project: providing fuel for young innovators.

"Above all, [it's] a message of hope to young Lebanese and university students: It's possible!" said Peter Salloum of Crown Agents, a Britain-based development company assisting with the project.

That message resonated with some of those attending the launch.

"It's not a huge project for a big country, but it's huge for Lebanon," said Khaled Chahine, an electrical engineering professor at the Beirut Arab University.

"We as a people need this."

Half a century after Lebanon's last space encounter, a new generation is once again aiming for the stars.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Apr 10, 2019
Words:724
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