Filipino engineers in Japan’s Tohoku, Hokkaido, Kyushu universities up to the challenge
In case some still doubt that the Philippines has already sent its first eye in the sky into space, maybe a second microsatellite would make them believe it is so.
Another 50-kilogram satellite shall soon be sent into orbit by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through its partner, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa).
It should be recalled that the DOST had the Philippines’s first microsatellite—the maiden Diwata-1 that was designed, developed and assembled in Japan by nine pioneering Filipino engineers and scientists along with their “sensei” (instructors) from the Tohoku University (TU) and Hokkaido University (HU).
Diwata-1 was launched into the International Space Station onboard the Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft on March 23, 2016. It was deployed from the ISS into her orbit on April 27 by the Japanese Experimental Module (JEM)—”Kibo” or Hope—around 400 km above Earth’s surface.
Now, two years and four months later, the government is about to unveil the second iteration of Diwata-1—named Diwata-2.
Would there be a Diwata-3? Obviously, that’s the plan of the DOST and its attached agencies, especially the Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-Asti) and the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD).
The name of the DOST space-related undertaking is the Philippine Scientific and Earth Observation Microsatellite (PHL-Microsat), along with a ground receiving station dubbed the Philippine Earth Data Resources Observation (Pedro), a two-year program.
PHL-Microsat is being put into motion by the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman in Quezon City.
Thus, it should surprise no one that DOST is about to add to its list of groundbreaking technological innovations designed to benefit every Juan and Juana. Diwata-2 is targeted for launching onboard Jaxa’s H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Island in Japan, and direct into her orbit before the Year of the Dog sounds off its last bark, probably in the fourth quarter.
In an exclusive interview, via Facebook’s Messenger, Ariston Gonzalez, one of the nine Diwata-1 pioneers, now a researcher/lead research and development engineer for PHL-Microsat at DOST-Asti, gave updates on status of Diwata-2, whose design, development, and assembly immediately followed Diwata-1’s successful history-making launch and deployment.
Gonzalez, one of the leaders of the “Magnificent 9,” so-called for being the pioneer Filipino satellite builders, relayed to the BusinessMirror that “the completion of Diwata-2 is near. She will be delivered to Jaxa by early-September.”
Gonzalez said what remains to be done in the building of Diwata-2 are “the final electrical tests and vibration tests of the flight model.”
Amateur radio module
He confirmed that the Philippines’s second microsatellite would carry an amateur radio module through which communication can be made using ham radios.
For the uninitiated like this journalist, “amateur radio [or ham radio] is a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics and communication together.”
“People use ham radio to talk across town, around the world or even into space,” ARRL.org said. Another Internet source said it uses “radio frequency spectrum.”
The Diwata-1 and Diwata-2 builder said what is called amateur or ham radio handsets are like the walkie-talkies used for talking between individuals, more so the police and Red Cross personnel.
He said the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) has access to such handheld radio devices.
Sounds great for a country like the Philippines that suffers at least 20 typhoons a year that like Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) in 2013 Eastern Visayas lost totally all communications infrastructures and facilities for a few days. It was when communication was nonexistent in Leyte province, the hardest hit.
Gonzalez said the “target use for ham radio [of Diwata-2] is for emergency situations wherein all commercial communications are down.”
Enhanced camera, with ‘wings’
On the other hand, he said the second microsatellite would have mostly the same mission with the first eye in the sky. The difference is the addition of an enhanced resolution camera (ERC) and a wider field-of-view or coverage of her other cameras, the multispectral imaging camera, the high-precision telescope, wide field camera and middle field camera.
Those are not the only enhancements, though.
“In the satellite BUS system, Diwata-2 has a deployable solar array panels. She will look like Diwata-1 but with wings,” Gonzalez said, adding that the solar panels were aimed at increasing her solar power charging capability.
Relay station between space and Earth
Gonzalez explained that Diwata-2’s amateur radio facility would serve as a relay station in space between and among people on Earth. As it is in space, the microsatellite’s ham radio will function even when there is no communications facility on Earth as a result of disasters. (He invited Filipinos to follow for updates on Diwata-1 and Diwata-2 on https://www.Facebook.com/PHLMicrosat.)
“All one has to do is tune in [a ham radio] to the frequency of Diwata-2 to send voice messages while the other party stands by to receive the voice message,” he said.
“What Diwata-2 does is to serve as a relay or connecting point for two persons communicating with each other,” he pointed out. A voice call will not be included in the amateur radio function, he said.
Diwata-2’s amateur radio will serve as a temporary replacement for the fallen communications towers, he added.
One can also store messages on Diwata-2 that can be broadcasted repeatedly across and over the Philippines, such as prerecorded emergency messages in times of disasters, calamities and other kinds of emergency.
In connecting to the microsatellite’s ham radio, nothing special has to be done, only tune in to the official frequencies.
Good for weather stations, flood monitoring
Gonzalez hastened to add that communicating with Diwata-2 has limitations, saying there are specific time windows when it is available, which will be determined and set once she is in her orbit, which is going to be higher than Diwata-1’s.
“We are also planning to activate with Diwata-2 what we call ‘Store-and-Forward mechanism,’” he said.
This means the mechanism will collect data from floating buoy sensors deployed offshore by the DOST, a safe and better alternative than sending people to manually collect the data specially when the weather is not conducive.
“So, instead of people going directly to the buoy to collect the data [on weather, etc.], it could be that there is one buoy sensor that will automatically collect the data from nearby nearby sensors, and the [buoy sensor collecting the data] will upload it to Diwata-2.
“Then, when Diwata-2 passes over DOST-Asti’s Pedro ground receiving station, we can just download the data and distribute it to stakeholders,” said the Filipino engineer.
He said the Store-and-Forward mechanism is not limited to just specific sensors. “We can modify even the existing one on the field so they can have the capability to upload data to Diwata-2.”
This is good with weather stations with certain kind of sensors, such as flood monitoring sensors. They can upload directly to Diwata-2, which is very useful, especially when the sensors are in remote location.
Sustain space development, technology
He said there is no definite plans yet about Diwata-3. “But we definitely want to sustain the stamina we have for space development and technology.
What we want to pursue in the immediate feature is to see the growth of the local industries sector; more active involvement and augmented capabilities.”
Gonzalez emphasized that there is no intent to cut the umbilical cord that links the PHL-Microsat to foreign technology when they will build the next iteration of the satellites.
“But we definitely want to leverage the capability we already have in the Philippines, and cultivate new ones.”
Data is the ‘new oil’
He noted the importance of the DOST’s space technology development program, citing data transformation as the new oil.
“I think, in a general sense, when we send out satellites into space, what we are primarily getting is data. And I think it’s getting to a point now that data is becoming the new oil. Data is now a resource that can drive a country forward. Be it in economy, security, sustainability and many others, data is now playing an important role.
“Secondarily, delving in space technology does not mean we only have impact when we send out things in space. In fact, when we delve with space technology, we drive industries and create products that trickle down to other relevant industries/sectors. For example, in automotive, electronics, manufacturing and many others.”
The “trickle down,” he said, could be in the form of the so-called attitude or orientation control that is being implemented in satellites, saying they are important in pointing the cameras of the satellite into a specific target on Earth.
“This technology can be used on automated vehicles on the ground and in the air. Unmanned aerial vehicles, or self-driving cars, etc.”
These are something to ponder on.
Written by Edd K. Usman
Usman is a freelance journalist who is on science, information technology, current events, etc. He won the “Best Science Feature Story” in the first University of the Philippines Science Journalism Award 2018 on February 17, and the DOST-PCIEERD “Kabalikat Award” for Print Media on June 27, 2014.