First Thai-made satellite launched from California


It was one small step for Thailand and one giant leap for the Kingdom’s technology ambitions. A Thai university research team was celebrating the successful launch of their satellite last week – the first orbiter designed and built in the Kingdom.

The satellite was launched from Vanderberg Air Force Base in California on December 3 and is now in orbit. It marks a significant advance in the Kingdom’s efforts to foster and support innovation, and research and development.

While the satellite is small in size at less than a foot on each side and weighing just 2.2 pounds, it is a huge achievement for the team at the King Mongkut University of Technology North Bangkok. The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried the satellite, named KNACKSAT, into orbit as part of its payload. KNACKSAT stands for King Mongkut University of Technology Academic Challenge of Knowledge Satellite.

KNACKSAT can communicate with the ground-based team by radio waves on amateur frequencies and has been fitted with an iPhone 4 camera. The technology may be basic, but most first attempts at space technology are simple devices, including Sputnik the very first manmade satellite 60 years ago.

KNACKSAT’s objectives are to develop a communication system using amateur radio frequencies, take images from space, test 3-axis attitude control algorithms by using magnetic torques, verify a deorbit technology by a magnetic torque and, confirm the uses of commercial off-the-shelf components in space.

“We believe that this project will be a leading force to a larger satellite project in the near future,” said Prof. Suwat Kuntanapreeda of King Mongkut University. “Our students have been learning so many things. I would like to emphasize that this project is not only to design and build a satellite but more importantly, to build a Thai team who know how to design and build satellites.”

Thailand has had a presence in space since 1991 when a private Thai corporation launched the country’s first satellite. However, that satellite was designed and built overseas and purchased by the company. Since then, the Thai private sector and government have bought and operated nearly a dozen other satellites mainly for communications and research.

The government is keen, however, to support scientific research. It has been promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. Furthermore, aviation and aerospace are among the 11 S-Curve industries the government is incentivizing as part of Thailand 4.0, the 20-year national strategy to accelerate the adoption of innovation, research and development, and advanced technologies.

King Mongkut University of Technology is considered the leading university in Thailand for engineering and most sciences.

Pongsatorn Saisutjarit, who led the team at King Mongkut University of Technology, began developing the satellite in 2012. In 2015, he received funding for it from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission.