A computer-generated rendering of the Formosat-7 constellation. Photo: Handout

Taiwan is planning to put a satellite in the moon’s orbit and eventually land it using its onboard guidance system in the absence of GPS, an ambitious goal set out in its new space program announced this week.

The plan was unveiled by the island’s Ministry of Science and Technology, which also included the development of 10 small, high-resolution satellites, at a cost of NT$25.1 billion (US$814 million). It is to be executed by Taiwan’s National Applied Research Laboratories and the National Space Organization over a 10-year period starting this year, according to the ministry.

The initiative would focus on the development of six prototype high-resolution optical remote sensing satellites, two ultra-high resolution smart optics remote sensing satellites and two synthetic aperture radar satellites, all of which would be put into their orbits on US and other foreign rockets.

Taiwan’s indigenous synthetic aperture radar satellites, equipped with active radar, are unaffected by cloud cover, fog or rainfall, which means they can function regardless of the weather conditions or time of day. It would also focus on the development of remote sensing technology and the use of smaller satellites to shoot higher resolution images.

An ultra-high resolution smart optics remote sensing satellite weighing about 200kg would give users a 35cm view of the ground from an altitude of 510 km with sub-meter resolution images, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported.

Other plans include space exploration and the development of a satellite capable of orbiting the moon, and researchers would also explore ways to land a satellite on the moon, like China has done since 2013 in its Chang’e lunar exploration program.

Meanwhile, Taiwan is still waiting for the US to decide when its Formosat-7 satellite can enter space, atop a rocket developed by SpaceX. The ministry plans to launch Formosat-7 this year and a weather satellite called the “wind hunter” next year.

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