Mon, May 24, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Satellite will yield more than images

PROFIT CENTER The newly launched ROCSAT-2 satellite will generate loads of money as clients pony up the cash for its high-resolution imaging capabilities

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Tamshui River, left, and the Keelung River, right, are shown meandering through Taipei in this satellite image. The ROCSAT-2 satellite, placed in orbit this week, will produce similar images with higher resolutions.

PHOTO: QUICK BIRD SATELLITE IMAGE, NATIONAL SPACE PROGRAM OFFICE

When the eighth-century poet Wang Chih-huan (王之渙) wrote the famous lines, "If more distant views are what you desire, simply climb a storey higher (欲窮千里目, 更上一層樓)," he was not likely imagining that people 13 centuries later would follow the spirit of his words by launching satellites into space.

Wang's lines were used by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on Friday as part of the congratulatory address he delivered to the team responsible for the launch of the nation's second satellite, ROCSAT-2.

"In addition to broadening our ability to observe not only Taiwan but also the rest of the world, ROCSAT-2 increases our scientific knowledge," Chen said as he started, by remote link, ROCSAT-2's digital signal processor.

Chen was speaking at the Presidential Office, where a launch ceremony was being held simultaneously with a ceremony that was taking place at the National Space Program Office (NSPO) in Hsinchu.

Capable of producing images of objects as small as 2m across, and with its orbit set so that it can pass over Taiwan twice daily, ROCSAT-2 will provide timely and useful images of sites all over the nation.

"The satellite will provide useful applications for fields including utilities, agricultural and forestry planning, environmental monitoring, natural disaster evaluation and scientific research," NSPO Director Lee Luo-chuan (李羅權) said.

The satellite is orbiting the planet 14 times a day and passes over the middle of the Taiwan Strait twice a day. The first daily pass-over of Taiwan, at 10:00am, allows eight minutes of imaging time. The second visit, at 10:00pm, is used to download to earth the data accumulated on board the craft.

Military purposes?

According to Lee, the satellite can provide imaging of the entire island of Taiwan by producing just four neighboring image strips -- assuming that the weather co-operates.

Also, through elevation-angle maneuvering, three-dimensional imaging data can be produced.

Lee said that the satellite can take photos of almost any spot on the globe and has great promise as a commercial supplier of satellite images.

"Marine pollution, coastal smuggling and other applications -- you name it," Lee said.

Although some have wondered whether the satellite could be used for military purposes, NSPO officials maintain that ROCSAT-2 was designed only for civilian purposes.

In the past, Taiwan has been one of the world's biggest buyers of satellite information. Each year the government and private research institutions spend large amounts of money on satellite data -- data covering topics from climate to topography.

"Because of ROCSAT-2, Taiwan can now become a satellite image exporter," Lee said.

According to the NSPO, two research institutes in Japan have asked about purchasing ROCSAT-2's images. Acquiring up-to-date satellite images of the areas near Japan -- including North Korea -- became an urgent need for Japan after two recent satellite projects failed, officials said.

Better clarity

NSC Deputy Minister Shieh Ching-jyh (謝清志), who traveled to California to witness the liftoff of ROCSAT-2, told the Taipei Times that the satellite would help correct maps that are crucial to the utilities industry.

"Importantly, Taiwan can operate the satellite independently for various purposes," Shieh said.

Chen Shao-hsing (陳紹興), NSPO deputy director, said that the satellite, during its seven years of operation, might earn as much as NT$ 1.5 billion (US$45.5 million).

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