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FormoSat-7 satellite group to be launched in mid-2018

2017/10/30 16:42:08

Chen Liang-gee (陳良基, left)

Taipei, Oct. 30 (CNA) A constellation of six satellites under the FormoSat-7/COSMIC-2 project, a U.S.-Taiwan collaboration, will be launched in May or June next year, Taiwan's Science and Technology Minister Chen Liang-gee (陳良基) said Monday.

These remote sensing micro-satellites, one of two sets of satellites originally planned under the FormoSat-7 project, are expected to collect up to four times as much atmospheric data to help monitor and predict the weather as FormoSat-3, Chen said at a legislative hearing.

Chen was answering questions from lawmakers about the FormoSat-7 program, a follow-up mission to the successful FormoSat-3/COSMIC program to meet the RO (Radio Occultation) data continuity requirements of the user community.

A collaboration between Taiwan's National Space Organization (NSPO) and the U.S.'s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), FormoSat-7 was originally designed to feature two sets of six satellites to collect GPS RO data used in weather forecasting.

The first set of six satellites, known as COSMIC-2A, has been built and is scheduled to be launched as part of the U.S. Air Force's Space Test Program 2 mission in early 2018, SpaceNews said.

COSMIC is the abbreviation for the "constellation observing system for meteorology, ionosphere and climate."

The plan to build the second six-satellite constellation has been dropped, however, due to funding issues.

On Monday, Chen told lawmakers that the U.S. side thought those planned weather satellites would have commercial value and that their building cost should not be covered by the U.S. government.

As a result, the Americans decided not to work with Taiwan on this part of the project, instead deciding to have the private sector take over, Chen said.

Despite the cancellation, the first six-satellite constellation will be launched as scheduled and will fulfill its intended mission of observing weather conditions in the middle and low inclination orbits above Taiwan, Chen said.

"The impact will not be big," he observed.

The difference between the first and second set of satellites for FormoSat-7 was in their latitude and observation angle. The second satellite constellation was planned to observe weather at high latitudes, according to Chen.

The FormoSat-7 program has drawn attention after Taiwan's self-built FormoSat-5 satellite was successfully launched in the U.S. on Aug. 25 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The first images of Earth taken by the satellite were blurry, however, and those of urban areas were marred by light spots due to a focusing problem on the satellite's remote sensing instrument (RSI).

Asked by lawmakers if the problem has been fixed or not, NSPO Deputy Director-General Yu Shiann-jeng (余憲政) said the adjustment is expected to be completed by December.

The NSPO is trying to get the satellite to capture panchromatic images with a resolution of up to two meters per pixel, and multi-spectral images with a resolution of four meters per pixel as it was designed, Yu said.

FormoSat-5, a 450-kg octagonal shape mini-satellite that is 2.8 meters in height and 1.6 meters in diameter, was designed and built by the NSPO.

The satellite's mission is to advance and demonstrate Taiwan's indigenous space technology in the field of remote sensing satellites, to continue to serve global imagery users previously served by FormoSat-2, and to promote domestic space science research, according to the NSPO.

FormoSat-5 carried an optical remote sensing payload to execute remote sensing missions and a science payload to perform scientific research.

(By Chu Tze-wei and Elizabeth Hsu)
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