A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday, putting the Formosat-7 satellite constellation, alongside other experimental satellites, into orbit. The craft lifted off to cheers from onlookers at 2:30am local time after a three-hour delay from the original launch time late Monday. President Tsai Ing-wen, who watched the launch live at Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSPO) in Hsinchu, lauded the launch as a milestone for Taiwan space technology.
The boosters separated safely as the craft began its six-hour mission to deploy the satellites. The two side booster rockets returned safely to Earth, descending onto adjacent US Air Force landing pads, but the rocket’s center booster missed its mark, crashing in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX has landed and used many of its booster rockets more than once, touting their reusability as an effective way to cut the costs of future space travel.
Tsai said the launch of the Formosat-5 in 2017 proved to the world that Taiwan has independent space research and development capability, and with the launch of Formosat-7, the country now shines bright on the international stage. Formosat-5, another earth observation satellite operated by the NSPO, was launched on Aug. 24, 2017 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Formosat-7 is the largest cooperative project between Taiwan and the US, Tsai said, adding that the satellite will undertake meteorological observations free from the restrictions of geography or weather, enabling Taiwan to obtain more accurate meteorological data. The collected data, she said, can be shared with other nations for the benefit of mankind as a whole.
Formosat-7 will replace Formosat-3, the first Taiwan-US collaborative space program, with state-of-the-art instruments and equipment that collect meteorological, ionospheric and climate data. Jointly developed by the NSPO and the US’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the new satellite platform will deploy six satellites into low inclination orbits to provide low and mid-latitude ionosphere data.
According to the NSPO, 91 minutes into the launch, Formosat-7 detached from the rocket, and all six satellite units successfully connected to a satellite signal station in Taiwan at about 9pm, Taipei time, when a news conference was held to announce the development.
Formosat-7 and the soon-to-be-decommissioned Formosat-3 are the world’s only two satellite constellations that use the radio occultation technique for observation. The technique enables the satellites to collect data of temperature, atmospheric pressure and water vapor every 100m up to an altitude of 60km above the Earth’s surface. First used in 1965 to measure the atmosphere of Mars, radio occultation relies on the detection of changes in the electromagnetic radiation signal as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere and becomes refracted. By analyzing the magnitude of the refraction and comparing it with the gradient of refractivity normal to the path, scientists are able to deduce the atmosphere’s temperature, pressure, water vapor content and electron density.
Launched two years ago, Formosat-5 is Taiwan’s first domestically developed satellite equipped with optical remote sensing instruments. The satellite operates in a sun synchronous orbit at 720km altitude and passes over the same location on the Earth on the same time every other day. Since it went into operation, Formosat-5 has taken many high-resolution satellite images, and is also used to monitor changes in plasma turbulence. The satellite has successfully detected anomalies occurring in the ionospheric prior to earthquakes, and it is expected to keep watch for the warning signs for earthquakes. The Formosat-7 mainly targets collecting atmospheric data in low and medium latitudes, which requires a lower operational orbit at a height of about 550km. It will take 19 months for the six satellites to finish deployment in the orbital plane, but the constellation will be able to receive data during the period.
(CNA, with additional reporting by Reuters and staff writer)
1. blast off phr.
點火發射;升空 (dian2 huo3 fa1 she4; sheng1 kong1)
2. meteorological adj.
氣象學的 (qi4 xiang4 xue2 de5)
3. state-of-the-art phr.
最先進的 (zui4 xian1 jin4 de5)
4. latitude n.
緯度 (wei3 du4)
5. ionosphere n.
電離層 (dian4 li2 ceng2)
6. radio occultation phr.
掩星 (yan3 xing1)
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