Thu, Jun 03, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Satellite at mission orbit

UP AND AWAY The nation's second satellite is orbiting where it can send back commercial and other data, but scientists found it can be a little cranky in the morning

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

ROCSAT-2, the nation's second satellite, was boosted smoothly into its mission orbit at an altitude of 891km yesterday, according to the National Science Council (NSC).

On May 21, after separating from its rocket 15 minutes after lift-off in California, ROCSAT-2 commenced an orbit at 737km, 14km higher than planned.

Originally, officials at the National Space Program Office (NSPO) predicted that they might need to spend about two weeks boosting the satellite to its mission orbit. However, they completed the task a day earlier than that.

NSPO deputy director Chen Shao-hsing (陳紹興) yesterday told the Taipei Times that the final boost to mission orbit took place smoothly at 4:05pm yesterday.

"In the next two days, remote-sensing instruments installed on the satellite will be tested and calibrated," Chen said.

Capable of producing images of objects as small as 2m across, the satellite is orbiting the planet 14 times a day and passes over the Taiwan Strait twice a day. A 60m by 60m target composed of four pieces in different colors has been set up on land in offshore Penghu as part of the calibration process, which enhances the quality of pictures taken from space.

Chen said that everything so far had gone well and that the historic first image taken by the satellite would be available next week.

ROCSAT-2 was designed for non-military purposes, including marine-pollution control and policing smuggling. NSPO officials predict that during its seven years of operation the satellite might earn as much as NT$1.5 billion (US$45.5 million).

Also expressing interest in purchasing images are world-class commercial satellite-image suppliers such as QuickBird, Space Imaging's IKONOS and SPOT.

On Tuesday, engineers at mission control were trying to complete orbit transfer but encountered an unprecedented problem -- they were being ignored by the satellite.

According to NSC deputy minister Shieh Ching-jyh (謝清志), a command sent by the NSPO on Tuesday to initiate the 32nd boosting of ROCSAT-2's altitude was rejected by the satellite, which had just completed changing from "night mode" to "day mode."

"At that time, the satellite chose to ignore the command before it became stable. Then it switched itself into a safe mode automatically," Shieh said.

Shieh said that the resulting one-day delay would not affect the operations of the satellite.

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