Tue, Jul 09, 2019 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Nation aims high with third space program

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

National Space Organization personnel pose as they prepare for the launch of Formosat-7 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida last month.

Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Science and Technology

Taiwan has bold plans for the development of its space technology with its third space program, although a proposal to develop launch rockets has been withdrawn due to US concerns.

Since the beginning of its first space program in 1991, the nation has launched five satellites in collaboration with the US: the experimental Formosat-1 in 1999, the remote sensing satellites Formosat-2 and Formosat-5 in 2004 and 2017, and the Formosat-3 and Formosat-7 constellations for gathering weather data in 2006 and on June 25 this year.

Nearly three decades of efforts came to fruition with Formosat-5, which is the nation’s first completely domestically developed satellite. It was on Aug. 25, 2017, launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The launch of the six-satellite Formosat-7 constellation — the biggest scientific collaboration between Taiwan and the US to collect weather data — on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida further fueled Taiwan’s aspirations for space technology.

The nation’s space development cannot continue with the “playful” experiments of the past 30 years, during which it launched only five satellites, Minister of Science and Technology Chen Liang-gee (陳良基) said on the sidelines of the celebrations following Formosat-7’s launch in Florida.

When preparing the blueprint for the nation’s third space program last year, he tried to convince an Executive Yuan review committee that the nation should launch a satellite every year over the next decade, he said.

However, the blueprint was considered “too aggressive” by the committee, which questioned whether there would be enough users for the satellites, Chen said.

Scientific proposals must be aggressive and instead of sticking to existing tools, the ministry is tasked with developing groundbreaking technologies and creating new demand, he said.

Launching satellites more frequently would also bond Taiwanese together, and allow local scientists and industrial manufacturers to acquire experience in a short time, Chen said.

It is crucial to learn from failures, which is a notion he acquired by observing the work of SpaceX, he said, adding that the ministry would sign a memorandum of understanding with the company to boost bilateral exchanges in the space industry and scientific experiments.

The third space program, which has been allocated a budget of NT$25.1 billion (US$805 million) from this year to 2028, focuses on developing high-resolution and ultra-high-resolution optical remote sensing satellites, as well as synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites, according to the ministry’s program description in January.

The ministry considered adding the development of launch rockets to the program, but later dropped the proposal due to certain problems, Chen said.

Soon after President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office in May 2016, a group of academics proposed creating a budget to develop launch rockets, a former government official told the Taipei Times on condition of anonymity.

However, after learning of the proposal, the US expressed “serious concerns,” the source said.

The US regards any plans by other nations to develop launch rockets as a potential attempt to build weapons, the source said, adding that the academics should not have sought a budget for affairs that fall under the purview of the institute and the military.

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