A computer-generated rendering of a Formosat satellite passing over Taiwan. Photo: Handout

After much delay, Taiwan’s next-generation indigenous imaging and remote sensor satellites, Formosat 7, have embarked on a trip today – not to space but to the US. From there they will be launched atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 22, according to President Tsai Ing-wen.

In what is the biggest-ever space collaboration program between Taiwan and the US, the new satellites will gauge weather and atmospheric conditions for national defense, emergency response and natural disaster relief operations, according to the island’s Central News Agency.

The Formosat 7 constellation comprises six satellites containing a radio occultation system, an ion velocity meter as well as a radio frequency beacon. They are designed to collect and process meteorological and ionospheric data and imagery, and boast four times the processing power of their predecessor, the Formosat 3, the world’s first satellite network that could collect weather data through radio occultation techniques.

The Falcon Heavy rocket that will catapult the new satellites into space is currently the world’s most powerful heavy-lift launch vehicle. However it has been plagued by technical issues since last year, leading to the original April 2018 launch date being repeatedly pushed back.

Taiwan’s National Space Organization said the US$210 million outlay for the program was borne by Taiwan and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Within three hours of its June 22nd launch, an announcement from the space authority will declare whether the Formosat 7 satellites have entered a Sun-synchronous orbit. This will be decided by examining data transmitted through a signal reception station in Darwin, Australia.

The satellite constellation, dubbed the world’s most accurate thermometer in space, originally comprised of 12 satellites, in two groups, but the second group was canceled by the US in October 2017 due to budget constraints.

Taiwan’s President Tsai has hinted that the island’s new generation of satellites will bolster national security on the strength of advanced antennae, sensors and cameras that can generate vast amounts of data for weather forecasting as well as reconnaissance.

Formosa was the ancient Portuguese name given to Taiwan.

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