DOST embarks on bold plan to put PH?s first micro-satellite into space

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In one of its biggest projects yet, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has set into motion an ambitious project to send into space a micro-satellite as part of the government?s remote-sensing program for disaster preparedness and climate change.

DOST sec. Mario Montejo
DOST sec. Mario Montejo

In two separate interviews, DOST sec. Mario Montejo disclosed that Pres. Noynoy Aquino has given the go-signal for the project, which the science agency hopes to complete before the current administration finishes its term by 2016.

Montejo revealed that the DOST has allotted a total of P1.35 billion for the multi-year program ? P650 million for the micro-satellite and P700 million for the land-based receiving station.

The development and fabrication of the satellite, according to Montejo, is being done in partnership with Hokkaido University. As part of this collaboration, he said the DOST has already dispatched a team of technical experts to Japan. Japanese scientists will also visit the Philippines to share their knowledge in this field.

Montejo said the project consists of two main phases: the installation of the receiving station and the launch of the micro-satellite into space. He said work has already commenced on the dish-like receiving station. He foresees, meanwhile, the government hiring a commercial rocket launcher to bring the micro-satellite into the earth?s atmosphere.

Right now, the country is getting satellite services from Singapore-based DigitalGlobe, whose fees are charged by the minute. Montejo said the country has almost used up the 30-minute allocation it contracted with the satellite operator for typhoon Yolanda-related activities.

The DOST chief said the Philippine-made satellite will complement and boost the department’s Light Ranging and Detection (LiDAR) mapping technology under the Dream (Disaster Risk Assessment, Exposure and Mitigation) Project.

The LiDAR mapping initiative is currently being undertaken through a leased aircraft, which takes digital maps of the country?s river systems. It cannot, however, take ?high-spectral? images and other useful information usually provided by a satellite.

?Also, if we have our own mini-satellite, we will be able process data sets very quickly, unlike if we get it from third-party sources,? said Montejo.

The micro-satellite, he said, can be used not just in disaster preparedness but also in a host of other areas such as in agriculture, environmental protection, and real-time weather forecasting. Montejo stressed, however, that the satellite program will not venture on communications and will focus only on remote sensing.

Montejo, recalling his training as a student of the University of the Philippines, said it is important for the country to have its own mini-satellite to enable Filipinos to become stewards of their own fate.

?At DOST, we take that to mean that we should implement all our science and technology projects and to not depend on others,? said Montejo, who is this year?s Most Distinguished UP Alumnus.

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