What are our satellites doing up there in space?

Published March 6, 2021, 5:08 PM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza 

  • The Philippines has four satellites in space • Diwata-1 has sent data that has helped government agencies prepare for severe weather conditions, the water supply, and detect the water turbidity in Manila Bay.
  • In the past year of the pandemic, the satellites were used to monitor land activities, including the checkpoints, the traffic situation and the activities at the country’s ports • All the data and images from the satellites are accessed through a ground receiving station in the country called “PEDRO” – that’s an acronym for Philippine Earth Data Resource and Observation Center.

Diwata-1 in space

The Philippines has four satellites in space, the most recent of which is the nanosatellite Maya-2 which was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) last Feb. 22, 2021 for deployment into orbit.

What are our satellites doing up there in space? Scientists on top of the country’s space development program said much data have been sent back by those “birds in the sky” which have contributed much information to help keep people safe from climate change, severe weather conditions, water shortage, and in the time of the pandemic.

The country’s first micro satellite –Diwata-1—was launched into space on March 23, 2016 via Atlas-V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was deployed into orbit from the International Space Station (ISS) on April 27, 2016. Diwata-1 weighs 53 kgs and measures 50cm x 35 cm x 55 cm.

DIWATA 1 in the laboratory

Chief Science Research Specialist Alvin Retamar of the Department of Science and Technology-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI) explained the beneficial use of the satellites, specifically Diwata-1.

In the past year of the pandemic, the satellites were used to monitor land activities, including the checkpoints, the traffic situation and the activities at the country’s ports, he said.

The satellites were also used to monitor the water supply in the country especially during the strict lockdown period when people had to stay home.

PEDRO All the data and images from the satellites are accessed through a ground receiving station in the country called “PEDRO” – that’s an acronym for Philippine Earth Data Resource and Observation Center.

The data transmitted from PEDRO is farmed out to different agencies, such as Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Department of National Defense (DND) and other government agencies for their action.

One such action was the rehabilitation of Manila Bay which came a year after Diwata-1 was used to detect the water turbidity in the bay in February 2018.

Using its Spaceborne Multispectral Imager, Diwata-1 helped track changes in water quality and sustained the rehabilitation of Manila Bay.

Maya 1

Tracking the weather The likelihood of rainfall and thunderstorms has also been tracked by Diwata-1.

“We used Diwata-1 for scientific purposes by determining the Cloud-top height that when there is faster rate of vertical growth of clouds, it could indicate rainfall and thunderstorms,” Retamar said.

Diwata-1 also captured the eye of Typhoon Ompong (International name: Mangkhut) on Sept 15, 2018. The typhoon wrought havoc in areas of Cagayan, Isabela, Benguet and Abra.

Environment issues In 2016, it also captured a contiguous set of images of Palawan, bringing into fore the environment issues of the island province.

Diwata-1’s images of several Pangasinan municipalities such as Alaminos, Sual, Labrador, Mabini, Burgos, Infanta, Sta. Cruz and Dasol also reminded all concerned stakeholders to protect the third largest province in the country.

As an Earth-observing microsatellite, Diwata-1 has three optical instruments for scientific earth observation. These are the following: • High Precision Telescope (HPT) which can be used in studying the extent of damages from natural disasters; • Space-borne Multispectral Imager (SMI) with Liquid Crystal Tunable Filter (LCTF) for assessing changes in vegetation and ocean productivity studies; • Wide Field Camera (WFC) which can capture cloud patterns and weather disturbances.

Built by Filipino engineers Diwata-1 was built by Filipino engineers and scientists from the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) in collaboration with Japanese universities, Tohoku University and Hokkaido University, with support from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Diwata-1 ended its four-year service when it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere on April 6, 2020.

Diwata-1 has since covered 114, 087 kilometer square of the Philippines’ land, or 38 percent of the country’s land area, according to data from the Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite (PHL-Microsat) website.

It also orbited approximately 22,643 times around the Earth and passed by the Philippines roughly 4,800 times.

The microsatellite has so far captured over 30,000 images of the Earth.

Engineer works on Diwata 2.

Diwata-2 Diwata-2, a microsatellite, has covered around 85 percent of the country’s mass, Retamar said.

It was used to monitor the extent of the ashfall when Taal Volcano erupted on January 12, 2020, he said.

“Using Diwata-2, we determined the extent of the ashfall in different areas in Southern Luzon and Metro Manila,” the ASTI official said.

He said Diwata-2 was used to monitor the extent of the forest fire in Benguet in February 2020, and for habitat monitoring of corals and see grasses.

Retamar said Diwata-2 had captured the state of urban sprawl in the county, and helped determine the changes in land structures, thereby giving inputs to government urban planning.

Aside from images, Diwata-2 has an amateur radio unit or ARU which can be used for emergency communication.

“Just in case, our communication facilities fail for some reasons, we can be assured that with Diwata-2 using its amateur radio unit, we have an alternative communication for emergency response,” Retamar said.

In April 2019, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT) designated the Diwata-2 ARU as Philippines OSCAR-101.

Diwata 2 in the laboratory.

As of December 2019, Diwata-2 has captured over 13,000 images around the world and has covered 27 percent of the country’s land area.

Like Diwata-1, Diwata-2 has optical cameras for scientific earth observation, but with specific improvements including an Enhanced Resolution Camera (ERC) for pansharpening images captured by the SMI, and experimental modules for attitude determination and sensing.

MAYA-1

Maya-1 The Philippines’ first nanosatellite, Maya 1, was launched into space on June 29, 2018. It is part of the three-Cube Satellite (Cube-Sat) constellation of the second Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite project (BIRDS-2), which is done in collaboration with Bhutan, Malaysia, and Japan.

“What is important about Maya-1 is that it serves as a platform for learning because developing Cube-Sat is more cost effective than using big satellites. It helped in the development of the capacities, especially in the universities which are the source of our manpower so that our space activity continues,” Retamar said.

Maya-1 has the following features: 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).

Maya-1 was decommissioned on Nov. 23, 2020.

 
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