Engineering The Rise Of A Dream

How far will you go in your pursuit for academic growth and self-actualisation? For Gan Theng Huat, the perseverance has certainly been worthwhile as he and his team witnessed the recent launch of Singapore’s first ever indigenous microsatellite, the X-SAT, into space.

By Mabel Tan

Established in 1972, DSO National Laboratories is one of Singapore’s premier national defence research and development (R&D) organisations for national defence.
With more than 1,000 research scientists and engineers, its mission is to sharpen the cutting edge of Singapore’s national security via new technologies and out-of-the-box solutions.

Through positive core values that emphasise the spirit of ‘learning by doing’, DSO aims to become a wellspring of technological knowledge, a fountain of innovation, and an inspiration to the R&D community in Singapore.

One of DSO’s innovative initiatives was the X-SAT, Singapore’s first ever indigenous microsatellite. Built in collaboration with Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the satellite was successfully launched on 20 April 2011. Research Engineer Gan Theng Huat reveals how he helped in this momentous project.

What does the X-SAT do and what was your role in the project?
Theng Huat: The X-SAT is a microsatellite, the product of a joint collaboration between NTU and DSO. This microsatellite orbits about 800 kilometres above the earth to monitor environmental changes in Singapore and its surrounding regions via the observation of land and vegetation cover.

I was part of the group working on the satellite’s antenna. As a Research Engineer, my job was to design and manufacture this important component of the satellite. The antenna is an extremely critical part of the X-SAT because it enables communication with the base station on Earth.

How did you feel when you finally saw the X-Sat being successfully launched into space?
Theng Huat: I was really excited that we were finally launching it. Yet, at the same time, I felt anxious because we were unable to tell if it was going to work. (Laughs) I remembered heaving a big sigh of relief when I received news that the X-Sat was fully functioning in space after launch.

Share with us the different challenges you faced while working on this project and what you’ve gained from the experience.
Theng Huat: My greatest challenge was working on the antenna itself. The antenna application for the X-SAT is different from those we have on the ground station. We had more stringent requirements to fulfil and because of these requirements, there were a lot more processes to be carried out.

We also did not possess the ideal equipment to develop the antenna. So, we had to improvise with the existing equipment we had without compromising the quality (of the end product) and more importantly, the (project) deadline.

Another challenge was the long work hours! (Laughs) I could work for more than 10 hours at a stretch over the weekends. I took all of this in my stride though as this is all part and parcel of research.

The additional time spent on the project has given me the chance to push myself in unimaginable ways. For example, I have managed to develop my critical thinking skills because the job stresses a lot on my mental ability to look at every problem and solve it. At the end of this project, I gained new knowledge that I never knew about before.

How did you handle the pressure of working on Singapore’s first microsatellite?
Theng Huat: Whenever I was feeling stressed out, I would take a walk along the beach. I was also fortunate to receive good guidance and mentorship from my supervisor who was very willing to pass on his knowledge to me.

I had a cohesive and hardworking team that valued good team work, which helped tremendously. At the end of the day, you just have to take it easy and positively.

Now that the developmental part of X-Sat project has come to a close, what are your current and future goals?
Theng Huat: Over the next few years, I’ll be focusing on my PhD programme as a full-time student. After that, I look forward to a specialist career and the title of a DMTS (Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff). Briefly, researchers start out as members of technical staff, and then proceed to become senior members, principal members and finally distinguished members – the most prestigious title. I think it is every technical specialist’s dream to attain a DMTS title. After all, it offers us recognition of expertise in our chosen fields.


DSO offers outreach and scholarship to students in secondary schools, integrated programmes, junior colleges and universities. The following programmes are available for degree graduates and undergraduates:

Research Collaboration Programmes
DSO Discovery Internship Programme
Sponsorship for Aspiring Researchers Award Scheme
Research Award Schemes

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