Wed, Dec 24, 2003 - Page 4 News List

`Horizontal rocket' takes off in Pingtung

CNA , TAIPEI

A scientific space-exploration rocket was to be launched from a base in southern Taiwan yesterday evening as part of the country's space program, according to an official from the National Science Council (NSC).

The rocket, the third of its kind to be built by the military's Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, was to be launched from the institute's base in Chiupeng, Pingtung County, NSC Vice Chairman Hsieh Ching-chih (謝清志) said.

The launching of the horizontal rocket, which can operate at altitudes of less than 300km, is mainly aimed at gaining better observation capabilities of the earth's ionosphere, Hsieh said.

Noting that objects placed in orbit less than 300km from the earth's surface are highly prone to falling back to earth, Hsieh said that no satellites fly in the region between 60km and 400km above the earth's surface. This part of the ionosphere has long been referred to in jest as an "uncharted zone," he said.

The rocket was to carry scientific instruments to explore and measure the ionosphere. According to Hsieh, the first such rocket was successfully launched about three years ago, but it did not carry any research equipment. The second rocket of its kind did carry such equipment, but its launch two years ago failed, he said.

The nation's space program, under the NSC Space Program Development Preparatory Office, is aimed at carrying out research, development and launches for basic space-exploration rockets before 2009 and of multi-functional space exploration rockets by 2018, he noted.

The Chungshan Institute builds and launches the rockets under a contract signed with the NSC Space Program Development Preparatory Office at a cost of NT$25 million (US$735,294) per unit, he said.

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