"Push the wrong button on the control panel and the whole satellite could tumble and go out of control," said satellite expert En. Azih Md. Zin. "The slightest human error could spell disaster."
The high level of commitment as well as intense concentration and alertness required of engineers to monitor telemetry data from a satellite was made clear to INTI International University (INTI IU) students who were on a learning visit to the MEASAT Teleport and Broadcast Centre in Cyberjaya.
The students were part of the Advanced Mobile and Satellite Communications class offered by INTI IU's Faculty of Engineering and IT. The visitors included exchange students from École Centrale d'Electronique (ECE), Paris, studying at INTI IU under INTI's Study Abroad Program (SAP).
En. Azih, Head of Satellite Engineering and Operations at MEASAT, went on to explain that over 20% of satellite failures in orbit are due to design error and failure to anticipate every aspect of the harsh environment in space.
"Building a satellite is not simple and many factors need to be taken into consideration, especially its weight and durability in a hostile environment," he said, drawing upon his more than 10 years of experience as a satellite designer and operator.
Apart from learning about Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellites, the students had a glimpse into the working life and environment of a satellite engineer who typically work 12-hour shifts per day, 3 days a week. They toured the satellite control room, network management room (with its array of flat screen TVs tuned to multiple channels), and antenna farm that links ground control with satellites in orbit.
Like his fellow students taking part in the eye-opening tour, Gilbert Gan found the experience fascinating. "I never imagined that handling a satellite would be more complex than handling an aircraft!" he enthused. "It's a great challenge and something that I might consider for a career."
Sonia Lahcene, an exchange student from France, was surprised to learn about Malaysia's advancement in satellite technology, saying that she will definitely share her experience with friends back in France.
"It's good that MEASAT provided us this rare opportunity to visit their facilities," said Kwong Chiew Foong, a faculty member who accompanied the students on the trip. "This is part of INTI's initiative to bring industry into the classroom – to help our students develop insights into exciting careers and gain confidence through real life experiences."
INTI's programs are developed and constantly fine tuned to cater towards the needs of employers and the industry. Students are constantly in touch with their potential employers, through visits to their work places, workshops, internships, and projects that provide them with real world work experience.