How the Philippines’ space program evolved: From late-comer to fast-learner

Published February 25, 2021, 8:09 PM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza 

The PH started its space technology development program only in 2014.


•       The Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite program is the country’s first initiative in developing its capacity in space science and technology.
•       During its four-year program life, it successfully launched two microsatellites: Diwata-1 and Diwata-2; and a nanosatellite, Maya-1. 
•       Succeeding microsatellites Diwata-3 and Diwata-4 and nanosatellites “are now in various stages of development, and which will be built substantially in the Philippines.
•       Maya-3, Maya-4, Maya-5, and Maya-6 already in their respective design and development phases.
•       What’s inside Maya-2: A camera for image and video capture, an Automatic Packet Reporting System Message Digipeater (APRS-DP), attitude determination and control units for active attitude stabilization and control demonstrations, Perovskite solar cells and Latchup-detection chip.

The Philippines may be a “latecomer” in space technology development program, but it has proven its worth and has marked its own place in space. 

Last Sunday, Feb. 21, at 1:36 a.m. (local time), Maya-2, the country’s fourth satellite and second nanosatellite, was launched into space aboard the S.S. Katherine Johnson Cygnus spacecraft. The 1.3 kilogram-cube satellite was successfully launched together with the nanosatellites of Japan and Paraguay at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Station in Virginia, United States and was eventually launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, Feb. 22. 

(Photo given by DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña)

“This is a big achievement for our country to develop our own satellites, as they say, we marked our place in space,” said Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Fortunato “Boy” T. de la Peña said. 

BIRDS-4 project

The Philippines’ Maya-2, Japan’s Tsuru and Paraguay’s GuaraniSat-1 are cube satellites under the fourth Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite project or BIRDS-4 Project, a global small satellite development project under a strategic partnership pact between the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) and the Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The launch of the cube satellites is part of the Northrop Grumman Corporation’s 15th commercial resupply services mission, which is delivering cargo to the ISS.

2014- the start of PH space program

De la Peña, who was appointed as DOST chief in 2016, said it was only in 2014 when the Philippines started its space technology development program. 

The Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite (PHL-Microsat) program is considered as the country’s first initiative in developing the country’s capacity in space science and technology.

(Photo given by DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña)

Diwata-1, Diwata-2, Maya-1

During its four-year implementation, the program successfully launched two microsatellites: Diwata-1 and Diwata-2; and a nanosatellite, Maya-1. 

It was funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and monitored by DOST-Philippine Council for Industry and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD). The program was also made possible through the collaboration of the University of the Philippines Diliman, the DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI), Hokkaido University and Tohoku University.

STAMINA4 Space Program

The PHL-Microsat Program was then succeeded by the Space Technology and Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement (STAMINA4Space) Program. 

STAMINA4Space aims to further develop expertise to 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.”

Two years after the DOST’s implementation of the space technology program, the country’s first  micro satellite, Diwata-1 was launched into space.  The historic launch of the 50-kilogram satellite was held on March 23, 2016.

Under De la Peña’s stint as DOST chief, three satellites were launched into space namely—Diwata-2, also a microsatelite on Oct. 29, 2018; Maya-1, the country’s first nanosatellite on June 29, 2018; and Maya 2, the Philippines’ fourth satellite on Feb. 21, 2021.

“Ang Pilipinas bagamat huli na tayo pumunta tayo dito sa space technology development ay humahanga sa atin ‘yung ibang bansa katulad ng Japan kahit daw late comer, ay napaka fast learner at napakabilis ang pagka-advance natin in a matter of seven years (Even if the Philippines is late in terms of  space technology development, other countries such as Japan, admires us because even though we are a latecomer, we are fast learner and we made great strides in a matter of seven years.),” said the DOST Secretary.

He said the DOST’s allocation of “significant amounts” to the space technology program, its collaboration with the Japanese institutions,  its efforts to get very good, young people to be their scholars and its active international and regional network were the significant steps made by the DOST to bring the Philippine flag to space. 

“We got good support from the Executive Branch in terms of support for programs particularly budget allocation, and from the Legislative Branch which prioritized the passage of the Philippine Space Agency Act.” De la Peña said.

“We had a good partnership with UP (University of the Philippines) in the implementation of programs. And our DOST agencies–PCIEERD (Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development) and ASTI (Advanced Science and Technology Institute) were very effective and efficient in following and implementing our Roadmap,” he added. 

He cited that the succeeding microsatellites Diwata-3 and Diwata-4 and succeeding nanosatellites “are now in various stages of development, now to be built substantially in the Philippines.

“All of us should be proud of the fast progress that the Philippines has made in this area considering that we started only in 2014. There are many aspects of governance which will be assisted by space technologies. These are concrete achievements in making science serve our people,” De la Peña said. 

Maya-3, Maya-4, Maya-5, Maya-6

Professor Paul Jayson Co, project leader of the STAMINA4Space Space Science and Technology Proliferation through University Partnerships (STeP-UP), said Filipinos can anticipate more Maya launches in the future with Maya-3, Maya-4, Maya-5, and Maya-6 already in their respective design and development phases.

“Maya-2 is the manifestation of our country’s commitment to build and sustain our own SSTA ecosystem,” he said. “This is but another step in our long journey as a space-faring nation.” 

Maya 2 is set to be deployed into orbit from the International Space Station (ISS).

It was developed by three DOST scholars while pursuing their doctoral degree programs in Space Engineering in Kyutech in Japan. 

They are Engineers Izrael Zenar “IZ” Bautista, the BIRDS-4 project manager; Marloun Sejera,  and Mark Angelo Purio.

Bautista said they “were preparing to coordinate with ground stations of the BIRDS network to ask for their help and cooperation in operating the satellites once deployed in orbit.”

Purio also cited their preparations for the satellite operation and mission execution.

He said the development of Maya-2, which started in 2018, was affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. 

“The development of Maya-2, and BIRDS-4 satellites in general, was special due to the fact that it was affected by the pandemic… Not being able to gather physically also adds to the challenges we faced during the final stages of the project as most of the work such as troubleshooting and finalizing software and satellite assembly were done with less people from the team,” he said. 

What’s in Maya-2

The 1.3-kilogram Maya-2 is a technology demonstration and educational platform geared to collect data remotely by Store-and-Forward (S&F) Mechanism. 

Aboard the 1.3 kg satellite is a camera for image and video capture, an Automatic Packet Reporting System Message Digipeater (APRS-DP), attitude determination and control units for active attitude stabilization and control demonstrations, Perovskite solar cells and Latchup-detection chip, STAMINA4Space said.

Apart from the similarity of the platforms, Maya-2 was developed and improved using the knowledge gained from developing its predecessor.

“Maya-2 is [a part of a] well executed plan that Maya-1 will not remain as Maya-1 but it will continue to grow and improve as a series of Mayas – as a platform to explore and educate Filipino generations of engineers and scientists in the meaningful and peaceful use of outer space,” said Engr. Joven C. Javier, who headed the BIRDS-2 team that launched Maya-1, UiTMSAT-1, and BHUTAN-1. 

 
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