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Space technology as a tool for development

LAST Monday, a rocket was launched at Cape Canaveral in Florida on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. The rocket was also carrying two of the Philippines newest cube satellites, or CubeSats, that will eventually be deployed on an orbit 400 kilometers above the Earth.

The CubeSats, Maya-5 and Maya-6, developed by a group of nanosatellite engineering students from the University of the Philippines, are equipped with camera, image classification and storage systems.

UP, UP A satellite carrying the Philippines’ CubeSats blasts off. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOUP, UP A satellite carrying the Philippines’ CubeSats blasts off. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

UP, UP A satellite carrying the Philippines’ CubeSats blasts off. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
UP, UP A satellite carrying the Philippines' CubeSats blasts off. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

A CubeSat is a square-shaped miniature satellite about the size of a Rubik's cube. It can be used to conduct science experiments or take measurements in space.

Maya-5 and Maya-6, like their four predecessors, are basically learning tools for the future corps of space technology scientists the Philippines is assembling.

Before 2019, the country didn't have a cohesive space program. The few government agencies that were doing space-related work did not coordinate with each other; there was no unified policy to guide them.

Most Filipinos also had the romantic notion that space science only involved rocket ships and astronauts setting foot on the Moon. They never thought that it played a key role in assessing agricultural production or climate conditions, or bringing live global TV coverage to their homes.

In 2016, the first Filipino-designed and -built microsatellite, Diwata-1, was released into orbit from the International Space Station. It was a milestone that drew attention to the need for an agency to spearhead the country's space development efforts.

On Aug. 8, 2019, then-president Rodrigo Duterte signed a law creating the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA).

For now the agency is focused on developing micro and nano-satellites, but its long-term goal is for the country to develop the capability to launch rockets into space.

Latecomer, but fast learner

Fortunato de la Peña, Duterte's Science secretary, said the Philippines may be a latecomer in space technology development, but it has already won the admiration of other countries such as Japan for being a fast learner and making great strides in less than a decade.

Last year, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. commended PhilSA for building the biggest Philippine-made satellite to date, the Multispectral Unit for Land Assessment, or Mula. The satellite, which is due for launch in 2025, will have a number of functions, ranging from detecting air and water quality to determining abundant fishing grounds.

The PhilSA is also mandated to encourage the commercial exploitation of the country's space capabilities. That may already be happening.

In 2020, the Philippines' first commercial spaceflight company, Orbital Exploration Technologies (OrbitX), announced that it is developing green low-cost launch vehicles.

OrbitX founder Dexter P. Baño Jr. said the Haribon SLS-1, a suborbital two-stage rocket, will be powered by renewable kerosene derived from waste plastics.

Haribon SLS-1 could carry payloads of up to 200 kilograms, and has a target launch date of 2023–2024.

Another giant leap for Philippine space technology was made on January 23, when the European Commission signed an agreement with the European Space Agency to build a national Copernicus data center in the country.

Copernicus is the European Union's Earth observation program aimed at “boosting smart, clean and secure links in digital, energy and transport sectors and to strengthen health, education and research systems across the world.”

Already, PhilSA has proved its worth, providing satellite images to help authorities in containing the oil spill from a tanker that sank off Oriental Mindoro in February.

The agency processed the images of the areas affected by the oil spill for the Philippine Coast Guard and the Department of Environment and Natural Resource1s. The images also helped the University of the Philippines' Marine Science Institute develop trajectory models for the spill.

A PhilSA research specialist acknowledged the need for better coordination in using and interpreting satellite images. “The field of space [technology] is very new to the Philippines,” the researcher said. “In PhilSA, it's mainly our job. But for other agencies, I suppose it's a small percentage of their operations.”

The dream of sending a Filipino astronaut into space will always be there. For now, however, space science can serve the Philippines in myriad, more meaningful ways.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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