Scientific and technological cooperation between Taiwan and the United States continues with the satellite program


In February 2022, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) announcement that AIT and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO) had agreed to a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which expands the existing cooperation between the United States and Taiwan on the “Development, Launch, and Operation Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate Follow-On Mission” satellite program, known as FORMOSAT-7 in Taiwan and COSMIC-2 in the United States, which began in 2010.

The FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 program, in which the United States was responsible for launching a constellation of meteorological observation satellites and Taiwan was responsible for system integration and design, is the greatest of all time US-Taiwanese space collaboration and represented a “major step” for science and technology (S&T) cooperation between Taiwan and the United States and Taiwan’s aerospace development.

Taiwan and the United States have built their space collaborations on the relationship between the National Space Organization of Taiwan (NSPO), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the Commerce Department. These links between Taiwan and the United States stay strong-as evidenced by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) visit to Johnson Space Center in 2018, as will broader S&T relationships. In fact, there have been at least 270 bilateral agreements and signed memorandums of understanding to promote S&T cooperation between Taiwan and the United States, including a new science and technology agreement which was signed in 2020.

Understanding the FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 program

The FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 program represents the next stage of Taiwan-US space cooperation and S&T cooperation, which started in 1994 with the design and manufacture of the FORMOSAT-1 experimental scientific satellite. Since then, the relationship has grown to include the development of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) on the International Space Station (ISS) in 1995, the launch of the submillimeter array in Hawaii in 2003, the Greenland Telescope in 2016, and the SpaceX launch of FORMOSAT-5, the first remote sensing satellite developed in Taiwan.

The constellation of six FORMOSAT-3/COSMIC-1 satellites launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2006 was the first major collaboration on meteorological satellites between Taiwan and the United States. Following the success of this program, Taiwan and the United States signed another agreement in May 2010 to relaunch the FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 program at the agency level between the National Space Organization (NSPO) and NOAA.

FORMOSAT-5 was launched by SpaceX and was the first satellite produced in Taiwan, in collaboration with the National Space Organization’s National Applied Research Laboratories and Taiwan’s industrial and research sectors.

The FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 satellite program relevant to the most recent MoU is a jointly administered program of six kitchen-oven-sized satellites that will play a important role for meteorologists and scientists research data on topics such as weather forecasting, space weather observation, and climate research. In the original program, the United States was responsible for launching the satellites while Taiwan was responsible for the design and integration of systems and mission operations, according to the NSPO.

Use of radio occultation

FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 satellites use radio occultation (RO) to measure how signals from Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), including the Global Positioning System (GPS), are distorted as they pass through the Earth’s ionosphere and atmosphere. Analysis of these signals yields distinct measurements for important meteorological categories, including temperature, atmospheric pressure and water vapor content, allowing researchers to better understand the development process of tropical storms and other systems. meteorological. The satellites are also used to measure the impact of space weather on communications, navigation, cellular systems and aircraft in the ionosphere. These capabilities include the ability to produce real-time conditions for weather forecasting and space weather observation.

The new Memorandum of Understanding governing the continuation of this program addresses key issues for continued use of the FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 satellites, such as design, construction, launch and establishment of control centers. In the revised agreement, TECRO and AIT will continue, through NSPO and NOAA, existing coordination efforts on the project until May 27, 2030, or until the final satellite of FORMOSAT- 7/COSMIC-2 reaches the end of its lifespan, whichever occurs. first.

Fully operational

According to NOAA, NSPO and others, the COSMIC-2 satellites reaches full operational capability in October 2021. The announcement comes after the satellites successfully launched in June 2019 on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, establishing communications 173 minutes after launch, successful completion of functional tests in July 2019, a first publication of atmospheric data in March 2020and reaching mission orbits in February 2021. To achieve full operational capability, the satellites underwent a seven-month instrument and data evaluation period, followed by software updates. Additional Notices on satellites certified that:

  • All six satellites were correctly placed in orbit;
  • Ground stations were working properly;
  • Satellite data has been validated and correct;
  • The operations centers based in Taiwan and the United States were operational;
  • Backup ground stations with command capabilities will work; and
  • Satellite data can be properly archived.

Considering the responsibilities shared by Taiwanese and American actors on this project, the successful deployment at all levels represents a success for bilateral space cooperation and a sign of promise for future Taiwanese space capabilities.

Taiwan’s space industry enters its third phase

Taiwan’s goals of having an indigenous satellite program date back to the early 1990s when the government entered the first phase of its national long-term space technology development program. From 1991 to 2006, Taiwan focused on training aerospace talent and put its first constellation of weather satellites, FORMOSAT-3, into orbit. As Taiwan entered the second phase of its development program, it focused on FORMOSAT-5 and FORMOSAT-7 projects. The third phase of Taiwan’s satellite program (2019-2028) is mainly focused on launching one satellite per year to support national security and environmental monitoring.

The online strategic dialogue between Japan, the United States and Taiwan on July 29, 2021.

Next steps for Taiwan’s space program

Taiwan’s space industry has been identified as one of the key elements of President Tsai’s Six Core Strategic Industries, and in 2021 the cabinet approved a bill of the Ministry of Science and Technology to develop Taiwan’s space industry. This bill would favor space-related businesses in Taiwan and reserve of about 25 billion NTD dollars for Taiwanese space projects. Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) identified Taiwan’s leading role in semiconductor manufacturing as a opportunity for Taiwan to shape the evolution of the global space industryand the government has taken steps to expand existing national agreements on space and space technology in recent years.

In pursuit of its satellite and space goals and in accordance with the third phase of its National Plan for the Long-Term Development of Space Technology, Taiwan plans to launch the first of six FORMOSAT-8 satellites in 2023. This plan also calls for additional launches each year between 2024 and 2028 to form a constellation that will provide dynamic monitoring information and satellite resource requirements in real time. The next iteration of the FORMOSAT family of satellites presents a strong opportunity for the United States to partner with Taiwan at the government level. It will also build on the successes of the FORMOSAT-7 program to find more ways for the United States and Taiwan to cooperate on future space issues, leveraging Taiwanese technical expertise with the U.S. commercial force in the entire industry in critical areas such as space debris identification.

Deepen ties with JAXA and others

In addition to its new agreement with the United States, Taiwan has taken other steps to advance its space program. In 2021, Taipei entered into new space-related MoUs with Lithuania and the Czech Republic, showing a penchant for making new deals and identifying new partnership opportunities. The current trend of deepening ties between Taipei and Tokyo should also bode well for longer-term satellite cooperation and broader S&T cooperation between Taiwan and Japan. In the past, Taiwan has depended on Japan for satellite servicesand Taiwan’s new satellite projects represent a great opportunity for Taiwan to leverage the capabilities of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to forging deeper semiconductor-related supply chain security ties— which will simultaneously enhance satellite launch and deployment capabilities and address potential satellite supply chain challenges for both parties. Continued cooperation with the United States and other friendly nations will be an essential part of Taiwan’s ongoing space ambitions.

The main point: Cooperation agreements between the United States and Taiwan on the development and launch of satellites, such as the FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 meteorological satellite constellation, have opened an important avenue for scientific collaboration between the United States and Taiwan. in the space industry.

This article was first published in the Global Dossier on Taiwan speak Taiwan World Institute April 20, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

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Author: Erik M. Jacobs

Erik M. Jacobs is a research associate at the Global Taiwan Institute and a contributor to JAPAN Forward. Find his articles on technology here.


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