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IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Philippines’ Microsatellite: Going Farther, Reaching Higher

grs-picture

The Phililppines’ first microsatellite to be launched in 2016 marks a new era of space technology development in the country.

In the last 10 years, the Philippines has experienced devastating calamities such as landslide combined with a minor earthquake that buried the village of Guinsaugon in Southern Leyte in 2006, Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, and Super Typhoon in Yolanda in 2013.

While there’s no stopping the forces of nature, preparation and improved rescue and relief efforts enhanced by timely and accurate information can tremendously reduce loss of lived and damage to property.

Satellite technology offers the breadth and depth of data beneficial for a disaster-prone, archipelagic and yet resource-rich country such as the Philippines. Measurements from various precision instruments, advanced electronics, and communication devices mounted on satellites could be used for the creation of geo-hazard maps, flood and tsunami warnings, and natural-resource consumption for better disaster risk management and resource planning.

But to date, the Philippines pays for commercially available datasets from other countries’ satellites and service providers for satellite information and remote sensing applications. Datasets from commercial satellite are costly and are not delivered right away after they have been ordered.

Apart from lost time and opportunity, the delivery lead time makes buying images unsuitable for applications requiring low latency and near real-time decision-making such as disaster mitigation and response. Having the capacity to build and maintain our own satellite makes acquisition and processing of satellite data more practical and sustainable – not to mention filling voids in our local supply chain, electronics, mechanical, and the rest of its downstream industries.

The development of microsatellites serves as an outstanding platform for convergence of various technical backgrounds like embedded electronic systems and computing, signal processing electric power, mechanical control, imaging sensors, and payload design to analysis of remote sensing data. Also, various institutions in the field of agriculture, metrology, climate change, and disaster risk management and response may benefit from this innovation.

In this light, the researchers are to develop the Philippines’ first microsatellite – the PHL-MICROSAT. This research is composed of five project components.

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A group of electronics and mechanical engineers, with collaborators from Tohoku University and Hokkaido University, addresses Project 1: Microsatellite BUS Development, which is about the design, development, and testing of the mechanical, electrical, and electronic control and computing systems (BUS) of the PHL-MICROSAT. The team targets the launch of two microsatellites – the first one is based on existing Japanese microsatellite bus design; while the second one will allow major modifications in terms of the mission and bus design to tailor-fit the Philippines’ needs.

As of the time of writing, the four Filipino engineers who are students in Tohoku University have made impressive progress on the structural design of PHL-MICROSAT’s BUS. There are also three scientists and engineers who are working on the mission design, payload, and ground receiving station in Hokkaido University. Moreover, all the students are expected to achieve advanced degrees while developing the microsatellite. The team has also visited Hokkaido and Tohoku Universities and their partner industries last September 2014 as part of this initiative.

To complement and sustain the gains in technology transfer and knowledge generation, a microsatellite research and instructional facility is scheduled to be established in the University of the Philippines. This local facility – the Microsatellite Research Laboratory – will collaborate with the Filipino team in Japan to target possible incremental improvements that can be implemented in the microsatellite bus in the medium to long term. They will also have access to a Ground Receiving Station (GRS) and will address innovations on the bus system. As for capacity building, there would be development of relevant undergraduate and graduate courses in computing, electrical, and electronics engineering for microsatellite technology and the GRS.

A team from DOST-ASTI will establish and operate Project 2: Ground Receiving Station for the Philippine Microsatellite Program, which will allow space-borne images taken by an orbiting microsatellite to be transmitted to Earth for use in various scientific and civilian applications. It would also be used to control and transmit commands from the ground to the microsatellite so that it can carry out its mission effectively.

In particular, the GRS is expected to control, receive, and process microsatellite imagery; facilitate distribution and storage of satellite imagery; and provide immediate returns even before launch of the Philippine microsatellite by receiving images from other microsatellites. In addition, receiving imagery from other microsatellites serves as a test bed to gauge the effectiveness of the system.

To complement the GRS, a team from the UP Training Center for Applied Geodesy and Photogrammetry (UPD-TCAGP) is assigned to work on Project 3: Development of a Data Processing, Archiving, and Distribution Sub-system for the Ground Receiving Station of the Philippine Microsatellite.

In particular, they are in-charge of designing and developing data processing, archiving, and distributing sub-systems for multiple sensor remote sensing (RS) images; gaining proficiency in the upscaling and automating RS data calibration; and disseminating different RS products (e.g. land cover, resource maps, etc.). The RS products are intended to be efficiently and systematically distributed to national government initiatives, with applications for disaster risk reduction, resource mapping, food security, and defense among others.

Moreover, a team of engineers from UPD-TCAGP is in-charge for Project 4: Calibration and Validation of Remote Sensing Instruments for the Philippine Microsatellite Program. They will develop a calibration method to be applied for the RS instrument; generate a set of calibration parameters for the RS instrument to maintain image spectral fidelity and consistency; and generate an authoritative spectral signature database/library of key ground objects of significance and/or importance that are especially endemic to the Philippine conditions. One of the Japanese microsatellite payloads is scheduled to be brought to the Philippines for testing and calibration on a plane by this team.

Lastly, a team of scientists from UP-Institute of Environment Science and Metrology is tasked to implement of Project 5: Remote Sensing Product Development for the Philippine Microsatellite Program which would deal with microsatellite mission design, particularly on the second microsatellite that is scheduled to be launched. The team is organizing regular meetings within the local scientific community to ensure the integrity and maximized use of the data obtained from the microsatellite by gathering inputs from end-users to fit their needs. The team is also in-charge of processing data from previous Japanese microsatellite missions; and building a spectral library of high-quality data to be used for ground-truthing and algorithm development. Moreover, the team will produce geo-referenced (Level 1a) and calibrated radiances (Level 1b) products; and build local capability in processing of microsatellite data.

All these efforts are directed towards the goal of designing, building, and sustaining the Philippines’ first microsatellite while maximizing its capabilities and efficiently disturbing its outputs to different agencies tasked for disaster risk reduction, weather forecasting, resource mapping, food security, and defense.

 

Written by:
Doreena Karmina A. Pulutan
University of the Philippines Diliman

Published by:
Department of Science and Technology-Science and Technology Information Institute (DOST-STII)

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