Fri, Feb 17, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Satellites project runs aground

NO TO TAIWAN The nation's FORMOSAT-3 satellites project has hit a wall with the US Air Force refusing to fit the launch vehicle with any image representing Taiwan

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A NT$3.3 billion (US$ 100 million) FORMOSAT-3 satellites project might end up with no international exposure because the US Air Force, in charge of building the launch vehicle, expressed its objection to the appearance of Taiwan's national flag or any image representing Taiwan on the rocket, according to the National Science Council (NSC) yesterday.

NSC Deputy Minister Shieh Ching-jyh (謝清志) said yesterday that the US Air Force's objection was brought to his attention on Feb. 3, when he inspected a team of National Space Organization (NSPO) stationed at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The team has been preparing for the launch since December, when FORMOSAT-3 was shipped to the base from Taiwan.

"Taiwan's national flag and other images that stand for Taiwan cannot be painted on the rocket. I was very shocked to hear that and found the situation to be very serious," Shieh said.

Taiwan has never faced similar challenges when it launched its first two satellites, ROCSAT-1 and ROCSAT-2 in 1999 and 2004, respectively, since launch vehicles are operated commercially.

For FORMOSAT-3, the launch vehicle will be operated by the US Air Force.

Also called COSMIC, for Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate, the FORMOSAT-3 Program is authorized by the government of both parties.

In Taiwan the project is executed by NSPO, whereas in the US it is carried out by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

Shieh said it remains uncertain whether President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) Lunar New Year speech in which he considered abolishing the National Unification Council might have had any effect on the issue.

Consisting of six satellites, FORMOSAT-3 is scheduled to be launched at the end of next month. Shieh said it would be unfair if the Taiwanese people find nothing that stands for Taiwan on the rocket,considering that Taiwan is sharing part of the cost of building the launch vehicle.

"We have to ask for help from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which might have accesses to higher levels of the US government," Shieh said.

Meanwhile, NSPO director Lance Wu (吳作樂) said that ongoing satellite projects would be processed without being affected by the challenge.

According to Wu, the Argo satellite project might be a better way of realizing Taiwan's dream of designing and building a satellite completely by itself.

Wu said yesterday that Argo, when it is completed in 2009, might join the commercially operational RapidEye constellation, which is jointly sponsored by the German, British and Canadian governments.

Weng Shui-lin (翁瑞麟), director of Satellite System Development Program under the NSPO, said the LEON-3 CPU (central processing unit), newly developed by Sweden, will be implemented in the on-board computer, a core satellite component. Therefore, the Argo satellite, which costs NT$ 1.56 billion, might become the first advanced satellite in the world that uses LEON-3 CPU.

NSPO officials said that under the international collaborative project, Taiwan's improvement of its space technologies cannot be easily blocked by China.

In 1999, Taiwan's contract with Germany's Dornier Satellite System on the ROCSAT-2 project was shifted to Matra-Marconi Space of France due to the German government's refusal to issue the appropriate export license to Dornier.

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