MANILA - After just a year in space, the Philippines’ second microsatellite Diwata-2 has covered almost half of the country’s land area, taking images of towns and bodies of water that provide important insights about the nation’s changing landscape.
Proponents of the Philippines’ microsatellite program gathered at the University of the Philippines (UP) on Tuesday to celebrate Diwata-2’s first anniversary in space.
The 57-kilogram microsatellite, which is as big as a balikbayan box, was launched into space on Oct. 29, 2018 via a rocket from Japan. It is the country’s third Filipino-made satellite, after Diwata-1 in 2016 and cube satellite Maya-1 in August 2018.
Since its deployment, it has helped monitor the rehabilitation of the Manila Bay. An image taken by Diwata-1 in early 2018, almost a year before the rehabilitation project, showed areas of the bay that were murky.
Shielo Namuco, university researcher for the Sustained Support for Local Space Technology and Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement (STAMINA4Space) Program, said high turbidity of a body of water, or that which appears murky, is “an indication of (poor) water quality.”
The image was then compared to another photo taken by Diwata-2 in June this year, which shows big improvement in water turbidity.
Because it follows a sun-synchronous orbit, where it revisits or passes over the same area at the same time every 11 days, Diwata-2 will be able to better monitor areas such as the Manila Bay for water quality assessments.
Satellite images from Diwata-2 have also been used to monitor typhoons and growing urban areas in provinces. Images of Rizal from Google Maps compared to photos taken by Diwata-2 showed the conversion of agricultural areas into residential areas and roads.
According to Joel Marciano Jr., acting director of the Department of Science and Technology - Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI), the small but powerful computer-controlled system is capable of other tasks.
“These satellites are beyond taking pictures,” explained Marciano.
“They’re also viable communication devices. In the context of the Philippines, in cases of emergencies and disasters, this can provide a ready solution.”
He and other experts explained how the amateur radio unit in the microsatellite can be used to send reports and messages in the event of a typhoon and the subsequent breakdown of communication lines.
Namuco said Diwata-2 has also “created opportunities for learning” as students and government agencies have learned from its capabilities through trainings and visits to the microsatellite program’s facilities.
Enrico Paringit, executive director of DOST’s Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD), also talked about the shift from a resource-based to a knowledge-based economy.
“Even if we still need to harness our natural resources, a crucial part of that will be to harness these technologies in order to utilize our precious resources in a sustainable manner,” he said.
Satellites all over the world have long been used to aid efforts to improve agricultural productivity and monitor effects of urbanization and environmental degradation.
Marciano said the Philippines will have a total of 13 satellites in the coming years. Three are already in orbit already and a few others are being used as engineering models.
Four cube satellites will be developed in the Philippines by University of the Philippines graduate students while the rest will be made by Filipino scientists and engineers abroad through programs facilitated by partner countries.
Such developments coincide with the creation of the Philippine Space Agency, which will focus on space research for national security and development, hazard management and climate studies, space research and development, space industry capacity-building, space education and awareness, and international cooperation.
“If we don’t don’t start something like this (satellite program), we’ll forever be consumers of data provided by other countries. What if geopolitical situations change that we are not able to take advantage of other countries’ help,” Mariano said. “Now, the Philippines is not just standing by passively…We can also contribute.”
With Diwata-1 expected to end by 2020 and Diwata-2 having four more years in its life span, Marciano and the STAMINA4Space team are hoping that the Philippines can launch another cube satellite by 2022.