The Ministry of Science and Technology has designated a government-owned property as a site for launching sounding rockets, which could pave the way for soliciting commercial opportunities for the nation’s space technology, academics said.
The ministry on June 4 released a 16-page draft of guidelines governing security issues on launch sites for sounding rockets, which carry instruments for scientific research.
The ministry is to gather public opinions about the guidelines until Wednesday next week.
According to the draft guidelines, researchers should file an application with the ministry 30 days before a launch, and include plans for the simulated flight path, landing zone for rocket components and emergency response measures.
Researchers now launch sounding rockets at military bases or from idle land, but the guidelines show that the ministry has designated a seaside plot in Pingtung’s Mudan Township (牡丹) as a site for launches.
Sounding rockets carry instruments up to 300km above ground and return to Earth after the mission, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Shieh Dar-bin (謝達斌) said on Thursday.
The planned site is a property that the ministry has borrowed from the National Property Administration and is “one of the ministry’s candidate venues,” he said.
While the draft guidelines do not cover the launch of commercial rockets, it might be a way out for Taiwan Innovative Space Inc (TiSPACE), whose first test-launch has hit a snag.
Founded in 2016, TiSPACE is the nation’s first commercial rocket company. Last year, it planned to test-launch its Hapith I rocket from a site in Taitung County’s Nantian Village (南田), but the plan was suspended because of a dispute over the site’s legitimacy.
The Taitung County Government said in a news release on April 9 that construction on the site is illegal, and has issued several fines to the firm. Taiwan Power Co has cut power supply to the site.
The company is not under the ministry’s purview, but it could consider paying rent to use the Mudan site when it is ready, Shieh said.
The rent would be different for academic and commercial teams, but the lease standards are not yet ready, he added.
Asked if it would consider leasing the new site, TiSPACE said it could not comment as the draft has not been finalized.
Space science academics welcomed the ministry’s plan.
It is “very good” that the government has finally decided to establish such a site, National Central University Department of Space Science and Engineering director Chao Chi-kuang (趙吉光) said.
The site is adjacent to the Jioupeng Military Base, which the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology uses to test missiles, he added.
Although the site has been designated for scientific research, it might be open to commercial applications in the future, he said.
National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) mechanical engineering professor Gou Chong-sin (吳宗信) also lauded the plan.
Known for establishing the Advanced Rocket Research Center at NCTU in 2012, he said he founded TiSPACE, but left the firm in 2018 due to differences in opinion with other company members.
The ministry’s planned site might only be a temporary establishment, as it is only 1 to 2 hectares — which would be inadequate for bigger rocket launches or commercial development, and would also be used by the military at times, he said.
To build a national rocket launch base, the government should consider finding a 100 to 200 hectare plot equipped with launch pad facilities and electricity supply, he said, adding that the nation needs a “Space Act” to complete related requirements.
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