Thu, Jan 13, 2005 - Page 3 News List

FORMOSAT-2 is invaluable in aid drive, NSPO says

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

In this photo provided by the National Space Program Office, taken by the satellite FORMOSAT-2, the island of Phuket, Thailand, is shown on Tuesday Dec. 28 after being hit by a massive tsunami. Shortly after the disaster, the government pledged to offer free photos taken from its satellites over Southeast Asia to help with the relief effort.

PHOTO: AP/NSPO

Taiwan-produced quality satellite imagery has been in great demand by countries affected by the earthquake-generated tsunami, because Taiwan's second satellite, officially known as ROCSAT-2, is the only satellite able to take pictures of disaster areas every day, the National Space Program Office (NSPO) said yesterday.

The satellite, nicknamed FORMOSAT-2, can produce images of objects as small as 2m across, and orbits the planet 14 times a day, passing over areas affected by the tsunami twice a day. Since Dec. 28, the satellite has been conducting a special operation to take pictures of the most-seriously affected areas in South Asia.

"The satellite is the only one that can visit the area daily. Thus, we can conduct observations more frequently than others," Lance Wu (吳作樂), Director of the NSPO, told the Taipei Times yesterday.

Although other satellite images, such as those produced by IKONOS, have better resolution -- about 1m -- the satellites that produce them only pass the affected areas once every two or three days, Wu said.

"So far, images from the disaster area covering about 100,000km2 have been taken. The mission will continue for several weeks, in order to build a useful database for future geographic and ecological analysis," Wu said.

According to Wu, several seriously affected areas, such as Banda Aceh, Phuket, the Andaman Islands and the Maldives had been imaged consecutively. The images have been available free-of-charge on the NSPO Web site, and more than 60 countries have downloaded what they needed.

"Several affected countries, such as Thailand and Indonesia, even requested us to take pictures of specific coastal areas, where landform and terrain features had been changed, for the sake of disaster relief," Wu said.

It is evident that satellite technology has been fundamental in the recovery effort in the post-tsunami period. For disaster relief workers, satellite images now serve as a basic reference to find ways to reach some disaster areas in which roads and buildings had been destroyed by the tsunami, NSPO officials said.

According to Wu An-ming (吳岸明), the head of the NSPO's Systems Engineering Section, the satellite flies at a speed of 7.2km per second, and it has eight minutes in which it can take pictures of the disaster areas each day. Wu said that on average, the tsunami inundated about 8km inland, and the satellite was able to photograph these areas.

Over the last two weeks, the satellite mostly took pictures of Indonesia, Thailand, the Maldives and adjacent areas.

In the following two weeks, the satellite will focus mostly on the west side of South Asia, such as India and Sri Lanka.

"Taiwan will soon produce a valuable database, which will contain images of the disaster area covering more than 200,000km2 as a whole. It will definitely benefit researchers in related fields for future analysis by comparing images," Wu An-ming said.

Taiwanese researchers can now perform analysis on geographic changes by reading images taken by the satellite without going to the affected areas in person.

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