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Taiwan could send new satellite into space by year end

2018/08/03 18:03:08

Chu Chung-huei (朱崇惠)

Taipei, Aug. 3 (CNA) The second satellite constellation jointly developed by Taiwan and the United States, named FormoSat-7/COSMIC-2, could be launched from Kennedy Space Center by the end of this year or next year, according to program chief Chu Chung-huei (朱崇惠).

FormoSat-7 will replace FormoSat-3 with state-of-the-art instruments and equipment to collect meteorology, ionosphere and climate data and continue FormoSat-3's legacy as one of the "most accurate and stable thermometers in space," Chu said.

"It will become the brightest star guarding Taiwan," she said.

The FormoSat-7 satellite platform, jointly developed by Taiwan's National Space Organization (NSPO) and the U.S.'s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will deploy six satellites into low inclination orbits to provide low and mid-latitude ionosphere data.

Each satellite is equipped with three U.S.-built payloads, including a radio occultation (RO) receiver that receives global navigation satellite system signals from global positioning system and Russian global navigation system satellites, according to the NSPO.

The data the ROs receive will be transmitted to the ground for retrieval and processing into useful atmospheric and ionospheric weather data such as temperature, pressure, water vapor content, and electron density, the NSPO said.

The other two payloads are an ion velocity meter (IVM) that directly measures the temperature, velocity and incidence angle of ions in the path of each FormoSat-7 satellite; and a radio frequency beacon, which measures irregularities in electron densities in the ionospheric layer.

The NSPO said the FormoSat-7 satellites will generate three to four times the volume of data generated by FormoSat-3 and will greatly increase the amount of low-latitude atmospheric and ionospheric data available, including for Taiwan.

That data will be incorporated into Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau data and forecast system to help improve the accuracy of weather forecasting and climate observation, the center said.

In addition to the six mission satellites, the new space program also includes the Taiwan-built FormoSat-7R satellite, dubbed the "wind hunter" by the NSPO.

When the satellites come to the end of their working lives, they will burn up in the atmospheric layer through the FormoSat-7's "return mechanism" to prevent "space junk."

Taiwan, which is investing NT$3.2 billion (US$104 million) in the project, has completed assembly of the platform, and it can be shipped to the United States to be launched whenever the U.S. side gives Taiwan the green light, the NSPO said.

The launch of FormoSat-7 was scheduled for some time between July and August by American company Space X using its newest rocket, the Falcon Heavy, said NSPO Deputy Director-General Yu Shiann-jeng (余憲政).

But Space X has said it needs more time to test the rocket to guarantee a prefect launch, which could delay the launch date to the end of the year or to even next year, Yu said.

Launched on April 15, 2006, FormoSat-3 was the first Taiwan-U.S. collaboration space program and the world's first satellite constellation.

Chu said that while most Taiwanese know little about the satellite system, it "in fact has a good reputation internationally."

The FormoSat-3 was included in the weather forecast system operated by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) within eight months after being launched, compared to the one year or more needed by other satellites, Chu said.

She praised the FormoSat-3 as improving the accuracy of global weather forecasts by 6 percent, while the NSPO said observation data from FormoSat-3 led to as much as a 20 percent reduction in the ECMWF's inaccuracy rate.

In Taiwan, many analyses by domestic academic institutes and the Central Weather Bureau have confirmed the satellite system's help in predicting typhoon paths and torrential rains, the NSPO said.

(By Chu Tze-wei and Elizabeth Hsu)