Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines, has just signed a new law called “The Philippine Space Act” (Republic Act No. 11363) on August 8, 2019. The latter will allow this country of Southeast Asia to create its own national space agency: the PhilSA. This agency will be situated in the Clark Special Economic Zone, north of Manila.
This new law also creates the Philippine Space Council (SPC), which will be the main advisory body responsible for coordinating and integrating policies, programs and resources affecting space science and technology applications. With this law, the Philippines will be able to acquire a space agency and respond to the “urgent need to create a coherent and unified strategy of development and use of space to keep pace with other countries in space science and technology”, according to the President of the Philippines.
In accordance with the law, a Philippine Space Policy (PSP) will be developed around six key areas; national security and development, risk management and climate studies, space research and development, capacity building of the space industry, space education and awareness, and international cooperation. It constitutes the adoption of the first roadmap for national space policy for the Philippines.
One more actor in the Space Race, thanks to the Philippine Space Act
The Philippines were already part of the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) as observer status since 2006; it was an inter-governmental space agency responsible for the cooperation of the space programs of the Member States in the Asia-Pacific area. However, the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) was not intended to allow the Philippines to truly enter the space race, considering the fact that some other countries had already their space program.
The ambitions of the Government of the Philippines is obviously not to send people on the Moon or expensive probes on Mars, nor even develop its own launcher (like India, China or Japan), but aims above all to respond to the need to implement a coherent and unified strategy for the development and use of outer space, with the goal of not lagging behind in space technology. It is also essential to provide the country with a single interlocutor, which will facilitate international cooperation and help maintain its national independence.
The Philippine Space Agency’s objectives will focus on several crucial areas for the country, starting with the management and study of climate risks, which particularly affects the archipelago with disasters and extreme events that are likely to become even more frequent in the context of climate change, or in a general way of global warming. Without real surprise, the Philippine Space Act will address issues of security and national defense, but will also establish a program of research and space development. The Philippine Space Agency, which will be attached to the Office of the President, will be the only interlocutor in the field allowing the country to seal international cooperation agreements on outer space.
According to The Philippine Space Act, an initial operating fund of one billion pesos has been allocated to the Philippine Space Agency, with a ten billion pesos “Philippine Space Development Fund” created exclusively for capital outlays. The agency is also permitted to generate income from its specialised products, services and royalties, as well as accept grants and donations and secure loans.
Soon, Filipino satellites in orbit?
In 2014, the country adopted a micro-satellite program called Philippines Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite or “PHL-MICROSAT Program” which honed local engineers to produce Diwata-1, Diwata-2, and Maya-1, which were all subsequently launched to outer space via foreign facilities. Indeed, these satellites had been designed with the help of Japanese scientists, and launched by Japan.
Diwata-1 was the first microsatellite and the first satellite built and designed by Filipinos. The satellite was deployed from the Kibō module of the International Space Station (ISS). Its deployment took place in April 27, 2016. This deployment marked the first attempt of the Kibō module to deploy a microsatellite weighing fifty kilograms. The microsatellite was launched for a mission of approximatively twenty months.
Thereafter, Maya-1 was jointly implemented to the program as the first nanosatellite of the Philippines. It has been launched in outer space on June 29, 2018, and has been deployed on August 10, 2018 from the Kibō module of the International Space Station (ISS). Its mission was to experimentally test commercial apparatus. Due to its size, it is a cost-effective educational platform that can help Filipinos build future satellites. It can also be used to relay messages during natural disasters, such as typhoons. Its mission duration is from about six months to a year. Then Diwata-2 was launched on October 29, 2018. It has the same mission as its predecessor, Diwata-1, which is Earth observation. It also carries an amateur radio payload which extends the satellite’s mission to communications.
Filipinos aim to be permanently present in outer space, using these microsatellites within the period of 2017 to 2022. Indeed, Maya-2 and Diwata-3 will replace in the future respectively Maya-1 and Diwata-2. Nonetheless, their launch date is not announced yet.
These missions led the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to invest around eight pesos since 2010 in space research and development, and has already more than a thousand experts in space science. The challenge of developing observation satellites is crucial for the Philippines. Indeed, the data collected by these satellites is essential, especially for weather forecast. For instance, in France, the data collected by satellites currently represents between seventy-five and ninety-five per cent of the data that feed the numerical weather forecasting models.
Created in 2000 at the initiative of the CNES and the European Space Agency (ESA), the “International Charter: Space and Major Disasters”, a venture between seventeen space agencies to provide free satellite data to those affected by natural or man-made disasters. During the Typhoon Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Super Typhoon Yolanda, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded, ten satellites from the “International Charter: Space and Major Disasters”, have been solicited, especially optical satellites, which are more suitable. The difficulty was to cover a huge area that had been damaged, and the need for very high resolution images to cover all of it.
If the Philippine Space Agency’s budget will initially be only one billion pesos, the country intends to allocate ten times more in the years to come. The Philippines would then be able to design its own satellites, to reach mains goals like launching satellites by themselves, to have more independence, and could anticipate more effectively natural disasters. This is what can be said concerning the Philippine Space Act.