Not Science Fiction: PH Marks Place in Space with Continuous R&D Pursuit

17 Dec 2019 5:22 PM
Photo Credits: STAMINA4Space / PHL-Microsat Facebook Page

Article by Anna Cacho-Asunto (DOST-ASTI) and Nikki Ignacio (STAMINA4Space)

Antique Representative and former Senator Loren Legarda, in her keynote address at the 25th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP25) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), emphasized the value of using space science and technology and promoted the Philippines’ first-ever microsatellites and nanosatellite developed and deployed to space.

In recent years, three Philippine satellites, Diwata-1, Diwata-2, and Maya-1, were successfully launched into space. The development of the Philippine satellites became possible through the Development of Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite (PHL-Microsat) Program, which is now succeeded by the Space Technology and Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement (STAMINA4Space) Program. The PHL-Microsat program is the country’s first initiative in developing the country’s capability in small satellite technology. It is funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), monitored by DOST-Philippine Council for Industry and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD), and done through the collaboration between the University of the Philippines Diliman, the DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI), Hokkaido University and Tohoku University.

The PHL-Microsat Program is succeeded by the STAMINA4Space Program. STAMINA4Space is aimed at further developing deep expertise that enable and sustain the growth of a local scientific-industrial base in space technology and applications in the Philippines. Through science-based policies and programs supported by innovations in space technology, STAMINA4Space intends to contribute to building a resilient Filipino society and a productive, knowledge-based economy.

The Philippines’ first-ever microsatellite, Diwata-1, was launched to space in 2016, while Diwata-2 and the cube satellite (CubeSat) Maya-1, in 2018. The Diwata-1 is an Earth-observing microsatellite with three optical instruments for scientific earth observation: the High Precision Telescope (HPT) which can be used in studying the extent of damages from natural disasters; a Space-borne Multispectral Imager (SMI) with Liquid Crystal Tunable Filter (LCTF) for assessing changes in vegetation and ocean productivity studies; and the Wide Field Camera (WFC) which can capture cloud patterns and weather disturbances. It is also equipped with one engineering control instrument, the Middle Field Camera (MFC), which is used to help locate the images captured by HPT and SMI. Diwata-1 has since captured over 30,000 images of the Earth and has covered approximately 37% of the Philippines’ land area.

Diwata-2 carries the same optical cameras for scientific earth observation found in Diwata-1, with specific improvements including an Enhanced Resolution Camera (ERC) for pansharpening images captured by the SMI, experimental modules for attitude determination & sensing, and an experimental amateur radio unit (ARU) which can be used as an alternative mode of communication for emergency response. The Diwata-2 ARU was designated Philippines OSCAR-101 by the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT) on April 11 this year.  It has since captured over 13,000 images total around the world and has covered approximately 46% of the Philippines’ land area.

Maya-1, on the other hand, is part of the three-CubeSat constellation of the 2nd Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite project (BIRDS-2), which is done in collaboration with Bhutan, Malaysia, and Japan. The BIRDS project is a cross-border interdisciplinary CubeSat development venture primarily used as an educational platform for technology demonstration hosted by the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech). The CubeSat constellation is operated by a global network of ground stations established by the participating countries under the BIRDS project. Maya-1 has an Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) Message Digipeater (APRS-DP Mission), Image and Video Capture (CAM Mission), GPS Chip Demonstration (GPS Mission), Detection of an Electronics Circuit Anomaly due to Space Radiation (SEL Mission), Magnetic Field Measurement in Space using an Anisotropic Magnetoresistance Sensor (AMR-MM Mission).

The learnings gained from building Maya-1 are now being used in the design and development of the BIRDS-2S CubeSat, which is undertaken by the eight (8) Filipino scholars currently taking their Master of Science/Master of Engineering in the nanosatellite engineering track under the STAMINA4Space Space Science and Technology Proliferation through University Partnerships (STeP-UP) scholarship program. This scholarship is implemented through the UP-Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute (UP-EEEI) and DOST-Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI).To further increase the expertise and efforts following the development of small satellites in the country, DOST and UP  introduced the University Laboratory for Small Satellites and Space Engineering Systems (ULyS³Es) on August 31 this year. This is an interdisciplinary facility located at UP-EEEI, which aims to be a pioneering research & development laboratory for small satellites. In line with this, the DOST-ASTI's Philippine Earth Data Resource and Observation Center (PEDRO) is responsible for the installation of the first satellite tracking antenna in the country and the establishment of two (2) Ground Receiving Stations in Manila and Davao. Since 2016, the PEDRO Center has stored, archived, and delivered over a thousand satellite images and other space-borne data for various applications such as disaster risk management, environmental monitoring, and terrestrial and maritime surveillance.

“We see the value of harnessing space science and technology, and its application in improving localized data needed for climate and disaster risk management,” Rep. Legarda says. These microsatellites and nanosatellite have significant benefits to scientists, the government, and everyone, through the environmental data they provide which are useful in drawing out information to be used for policymaking and actions. It is also substantial to target a broader reach for communicating to people the development of space technology in the Philippines and to further explain why such efforts are significant to the Philippines and the country’s future.

Dr. Joel Joseph Marciano, Jr., Acting Director of the DOST-ASTI, Program Leader of STAMINA4Space, and Professor at the UP-EEEI, says that the country must be at pace with the global technological development at the very least. According to him, there is a growing interest in the sector of space technology and the country must be involved in this opportunity. In the past years, other Asian countries have already membered themselves in “new space” or commercial space activities such as rocket launching and satellite-based services for businesses.

Aside from economic advantages, investing in the continuous research and development of space science and technology for the Philippines will also provide a wider venue for knowledge sharing and development, locally and internationally. Recently, a study proposed by a team of Filipino researchers about spectrum monitoring mission from space won in the 6th Mission Idea Contest (MIC6) of the University Space Engineering Consortium (UNISEC-Global) in Japan. The achievement was internationally recognized in space mission-related contest, becoming an opportunity for the country to be more engaged in showcasing the abilities and potentials of space science and technology in the Philippines.

With the Philippines Space Agency (PhilSA) being established through Philippine Space Act (RA No. 11363) and signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte in August 2019, PhilSA will now takeover activities and issues related to space science and technology in the Philippines. Presently challenged by resources, the PhilSA will be supported by different established space agencies and institutions in conducting the agency’s programs and initiatives in mobilizing the use of space science and technologies. The inception of PhilSA and Philippine Space Act signifies that the country will continue and proliferate the initiatives started by our scientists, researchers, experts that are actively engaged in space research. Furthermore, as space research and Philippine satellites become evidently beneficial to the country, people are starting to get encouraged and interested in the goals of space research.

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