Mon, Sep 17, 2018 - Page 6 News List

In space, Taiwan can live forever

By Richard Fisher Jr

By the simple gesture of inviting President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to visit NASA’s Houston Space Center on Aug. 19, Taiwan and the US acknowledged their partnership in space. With the visit, Taipei and Washington also seized the future, opening the door to new levels of space cooperation, which could transform Taiwan’s economic, security and even political future.

Although the National Space Organization in Hsinchu was not formed until 1991, Tsai’s NASA visit in a way marked the culmination of more than 20 years of Taiwan-US space cooperation, which started with the January 1999 launch of Taiwan’s Formosat-1 observation satellite from Florida’s Cape Canaveral.

The Formosat-5 observation satellite was launched on Aug. 24 last year by a US SpaceX Corp Falcon-9 launcher. The 12-satellite constellation Formosat-7 could be launched from the larger SpaceX Falcon Heavy next year.

In addition, the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology-Academia Sinica Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, placed on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2011, was so successful that NASA decided to work with the institute to develop a cloud computer for the ISS.

Also, in 2016, NASA asked the institute to help design a moon lander to support its Resource Prospector Mission to find water and useful minerals.

Taiwan’s record of cooperation with NASA, and with new US private sector “space pioneers” like SpaceX, qualifies Taiwan to become an active partner in realizing the future benefits of the “space economy.”

By radically lowering the costs of space access, SpaceX and other private space companies, like Blue Origin, are making it possible to achieve a significant manned and unmanned scientific and economic presence on the moon by the mid-2020s and to soon after, begin mankind’s expansion to Mars.

In September 2016 in Guadalajara, Mexico, SpaceX founder Elon Musk revealed his low Earth orbit-capable Big Falcon Rocket and described how it could eventually transport 1 million humans to Mars.

Key to this future would be the encouragement of Taiwan’s private sector to seek opportunities in space services and commerce.

US President Donald Trump has placed a top priority on creating a new regulatory regime that can better enable the US private sector to find opportunities and profit in space. US companies seeking international partners for ventures on the moon and Mars should be encouraged to consider Taiwanese companies.

Washington can make a grand gesture to encourage such cooperation by offering Taiwan the opportunity for an astronaut-tended program on the ISS.

Washington should also relax its previous opposition to Taiwan’s development of space-launch vehicles, which arose out of the desire to constrain the nation’s long-range missiles in the failed hope it might help restrain China’s mounting missile threat.

China, too, would like to partner with Taiwan in space, but its loud protests of Tsai’s visit to the US last month and its subsequent “stealing” of El Salvador’s diplomatic relationship with Taipei served to drown out the offer made in March by Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei (楊利偉) that Taiwanese astronauts could work on China’s future space station.

However, as China’s space station will be a “dual-use” civil-military platform that could be used to attack Taiwan, consistent with China’s overall dual-use space program, which eventually aims to eventually militarize the moon, it makes no sense for Taiwan or any democracy to work with China in space until China can agree to real peace on Earth.

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