Diwata-2: Another step forward into space

Diwata-2, the Philippines’ second micro-satellite, is scheduled to be launched into space some time this year. Like its predecessor Diwata-1, Diwata-2 was designed and developed by Filipino scientists and engineers to help in assessing the extent of damages after a disaster as well as to monitor the country’s natural resources.

But like a true successor, Diwata-2 is a next step forward rather than a retreading. Diwata-2 is an improvement on its predecessor, and there are reasons to be excited about its launching into space.

When Diwata-2 begins orbiting the Earth, it will be capable of performing the following functions. One, it will take photographs of disaster-stricken areas to help authorities assess the extent of the damages. Two, it will monitor the state of the country’s natural and cultural heritage site. Three, it will monitor changes in vegetation. Four, it will help in observing cloud patterns and weather disturbances, including ones that might affect Filipinos.

Diwata-1 has been doing these things since it was deployed into orbit on April 27, 2016. The first images it beamed down to the ground receiving station in Quezon City were hailed by experts as “world-best.” Diwata-1 even helped in the imaging of the recent Typhoon Ompong (international name Mangkhut), showing the promise of space technology in making Filipinos safer.

Over the last couple of years, Diwata-1, the Philippines’ first micro-satellite, has taken thousands of images with many different uses. These images have now been made public on the program’s website so that the general public can see some of the benefits of a homegrown space program.

Diwata-2 will do many of the things it predecessor did, but it will also do more. 

Like its predecessor, Diwata-2 is a micro-satellite. Unlike some satellites which can be as heavy as grand piano or even a car, micro-satellites are smaller machines, with masses somewhere between 10 and 100 kg. Diwata-2, for example, has a size and mass similar to a luggage (it is a cube 50 centimeters on each side and has a mass of 50 kilos).

Diwata-2 will have many of the same instruments as its predecessor: powerful cameras that can help in monitoring the ground and observing the weather. However, Diwata-2 will be orbiting the Earth 213 kilometers higher than its sibling satellite.

Diwata-1 orbits the Earth about 400-km above the ground. This is similar to the altitude of the International Space Station (ISS), and that is no accident. The Philippines’ first microsatellite was carried by a rocket to the ISS, from which it was deployed.

Diwata-2, on the other hand, will be carried by a rocket directly into its orbit more than 600-km above sea level. The orbit of the newer satellite was specially chosen “sun-synchronous orbit.” This special orbit will allow the satellite to pass above a given spot on the ground at similar times. 

“With Diwata-2 being sun-synchronous, we get passes in a more periodic way,” Dr. Gay Jane Perez, who is part of the program, told Rappler. “So, if we have an area, for example, experiencing drought, we can monitor the development on this specific area.”

In other words, the orbit of Diwata-2 improves its ability to monitor events as they develop.

Diwata-2 is also equipped with solar panels that will generate energy to power its instruments. With the newer satellite orbiting higher up, it will be experiencing less drag from the upper portion of the Earth’s exosphere. This will give it a longer usable life compared to its predecessor.

Diwata-2 satellite also has an instrument on board that is capable of communicating with amateur radio operators on the ground. This will allow licensed amateur radio operators to communicate with other parts of the country when all other channels are knocked down in case of a disaster. This might be crucial during disaster relief operations.

The Diwata satellites are part of the PHL-Microsat program. PHL-Microsat stands for Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite. The program is a collaboration between the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and two universities in Japan, Hokkaido University and Tohoku University. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) also helps in this program.

The goal of the PHL-Microsat program is to help the country build the capacity to make use of outer space to help address issues that matter to the everyday lives of Filipinos. 

In addition to Diwata-1 and 2, the program also produced Maya-1, the Philippines’ first nano-satellite. Nano-satellites are even smaller, with masses between 1 and 10 kg. Maya-1 is about the size of a handbag (10 cm on two sides and 11.35 cm on the third) and masses only 1.11 kilograms.

Although small, the products of the country’s initial attempts to go to space are already having positive impacts on the ground. Just imagine what more bigger homegrown satellites can do?

Pecier Decierdo is the resident physicist and astronomer of The Mind Museum.

Topics: Diwata-2 , Filipino scientists , Typhoon Ompong , Department of Science and Technology , Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite
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