By Melvin G. Calimag
The Philippines is set to mark a major breakthrough in the realm of space technology with the start of the formal launch of the country?s first micro-satellite on Wednesday, Jan. 13, in Japan.
Top officials of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), particularly from the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD), will be in Tokyo for the ceremonies marking the start of a long journey to space by the country?s first micro-satellite.
The micro-satellite, nicknamed ?Diwata-1,? is a result of the collaboration between the DOST and the Japanese government, which helped fund the multi-million program called ?Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Micro-Satellite (PHL-Microsat).
PCIEERD, the project?s lead agency, sent seven Filipino students to Tsukuba University (TU) and Hokkaido University (HU) in Japan to study for their Master of Science (MS) and participate in the assembly of the micro-satellite.
At a press briefing in UP Diliman on Friday, Jan. 8, PCIEERD executive director Carlos Primero ?CP? David said Diwata-1 is now in Tokyo after being transported from the Japanese island of Hokkaido.
The micro-satellite will then make the trip in the next couple of months to the United States where it will be brought into space by commercial space transporter SpaceX. By April, the micro-satellite will be autonomously operating in outer space, said David, who is the son well-known sociologist Randy David.
David said Diwata-1, being a micro-satellite, is just as big as an ordinary ?balikbayan box.? However, the apparatus is packed with tiny electronic components and high-capacity digital cameras that can capture terrestrial images that are at least three meters in dimension.
The images that will be sent by the micro-satellite will be extremely useful for various purposes ? from national security to disaster relief, David said. It can also save the government of huge sums as satellite images procured by the country in the past, particularly during the aftermath of super typhoon Yolanda, cost millions of pesos.
The micro-satellite will pass by the Philippines twice a day and will send the information it obtained to a data receiving station located at the Subic Naval base in Olongapo City. The data station is codenamed Pedro (Philippine Earth Data Resource and Observation).
Diwata-1 is just the first of the two micro-satellites being planned in the next two years by the DOST under the PHL-Microsat program.
The three-year (2015 to 2017) budget for the program has been pegged at P840 million, with the Philippines chipping in P324 million while Japan is taking care of P515.92 million.
The project also seeks to hasten the creation of the Philippine Space Agency to help sustain and enhance efforts in research and development in this area, according to former PCIEERD chief Rowena Guevarra, who led the launch of the program last year.
Guevarra, who is now DOST undersecretary, said the Philippines would gain a lot from the initiative through cost savings and expansion of the capabilities in satellite research.
Currently, the cost of acquiring satellite services from commercial providers is prohibitive as it is computed by the minute, Guevarra said. ?We must also not forget the fact the we will be developing our capability in the sensors that will be put in the satellites. These sensors can be used in a number of industries like geo-spatial mapping,? Guevarra said.
Guevarra, former dean of the UP College of Engineering, said the country needs ?a space agency and space policy? to compete regionally and globally. She said Indonesia?s space technology is ahead by 20 years, while Vietnam is ahead by about 8 years.
The DOST official said the Department of Budget and Management has implemented a ?forward estimate budgeting? for the program by allocating the required funding until 2017. The science department, she said, is also hoping that Congress would pass a legislation that would create the proposed Philippine Space Agency with a formal budget.
The project team said the micro-satellite technology would help address the need for near real-time and on-demand data for enhanced local planning and decision support for disaster risk response, remote sensing for agriculture, and climatology.
As the micro-satellites that will be launched have an average of life span of 1.5 years, the DOST said the program will also allow local scientists to be involved in the development of next-generation small satellites.