1st PH – made satellite set to go into space

MANILA, Philippines — It’s official. The Philippines is launching its first Filipino-made satellite in space in April this year.

Young Filipino scientists and officials of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), led by Undersecretary for Scientific and Technological Services Rowena Cristina Guevara, are set to turn over on Wednesday the Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Micro-satellite (Phil-Microsat) to their counterparts at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in Tsukuba City.

Phil-Microsat, nicknamed “Diwata,” is the “first Filipino-made” and co-developed micro-satellite, which will provide real-time images that will help improve government’s response to natural calamities and the monitoring of the country’s agricultural, fisheries and forest resources, according to Carlos Primo David, executive director of the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD).

While the Philippines had in the past two communication satellites in orbit—Agila-1 and Agila-2—these were both privately owned and bought abroad.

Interestingly, this development in the Philippines’ space history comes almost 47 years since the country first won the Miss Universe crown and man made its giant leap in space exploration with the landing of the Apollo II mission in the moon. More than four decades later, the Philippines has clinched for the third time the Miss Universe crown and is now set to actively join space exploration.

“It seems that it is written in the stars that we’ll win Miss Universe and launch our very own equipment in space [at almost the same time],” David told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Tuesday.

Following the turnover, Japanese experts will then conduct final tests on the micro-satellite’s space-worthiness before sending it over to the US’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration, David has explained.  NASA would then hand the device over to SpaceX, which would launch sometime in April a rocket carrying the micro-satellite to the International Space Station (ISS), David said.

The PCIEERD chief said that upon the entry of the 50-kilo “balikbayan-box-sized” micro-satellite into the ISS, an astronaut would conduct a final check on the device before releasing it into orbit for at least 18 months.

Diwata would be the first of two micro-satellites to be launched into space until next year. It is part of a three-year P840.82-million program, which would also see the construction of a ground receiving station in Subic, Zambales, called the Philippine Earth Data Resources Observation (PEDRO).

PEDRO is tasked to receive and store data sent by Diwata, which is expected to take a daily average of 3,600 high-resolution images using its four cameras.

Joel Marciano Jr., Phil-Microsat program head, earlier said that the Diwata has been equipped with a high-precision telescope that could “determine the extent of damage from disasters,” like an onslaught of a storm, as well as “monitor cultural and natural heritage sites,” like the Mayon Volcano in Albay province.

He added that Diwata has been fitted with a space-borne multispectral imager with liquid crystal tunable filter that could “monitor changes in vegetation and ocean productivity,” a wide-field camera that could observe “cloud patterns and weather disturbance,” and a middle field camera, “an engineering payload that would be used to assist in determining the location of each image captured by the other optics.”

Science Secretary Mario Montejo said on Tuesday that because of Diwata’s capabilities, the government could have better disaster response mechanisms because of the availability of real-time data.

He added that the cost of this project was just a “small investment,” noting that in 2013 when Supertyphoon “Yolanda” devastated Eastern Visayas, the government had to pay around P56 million for a single satellite image showing areas affected by the typhoon.

When asked why the government took so long to invest in a space program, David said that it could be because previous administrations “didn’t see its practical purpose at that point in time.”

“We relied on the existing technologies [available abroad]. It’s only in this administration that we simply said, ‘OK, if I need this kind of data then I’d acquire it myself,’” David said.

He noted that while government could indeed buy particular services from other countries, “inherent advantages” to developing Philippine technologies prompted the creation of Phil-Microsat.

“In terms of capability-building, the value of whatever you produce will actually be much more [than you expect]. And since the know-how is there, sustainability then does not become a problem,” he said.

Once Diwata becomes operational, not only will it aid government in disaster events and monitoring resources, it will also capture the country’s natural wonders, which will be uploaded every day by the DOST on its website, according to David.

This endeavor, Montejo said, has shown that “sky’s the limit” for our Filipino scientists and innovators, and that “we can turn our dreams into reality.”  SFM

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