New Asian space agency in the horizon: The Philippine Space Agency

The Philippines have signed a law, which establishes the creation of a new space agency from Southeast Asia amidst increasing global ventures towards space commercialization

President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law the Republic Act No. 11363 or the Philippine Space Act, which establishes both the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) and the Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy.

In the past, there have only been a number of Asian space agencies, namely: China, India, Israel, Japan, Iran, and North Korea. The neighboring countries of the Philippines have already started making waves in the space exploration agency.

Particularly for China, it has been rapidly developing its commercial space advancements and have been working on its SmallSatellite deployment technologies and have already completed its first lunar landing.

Meanwhile, India is well on its way to make history by being the fifth country to successfully make a lunar landing with its Chandrayaan-2 mission.

Generally, the Philippines will be looking to also get a piece of the space exploration pie with the signing of the new law.

“It marks the Philippines’ official entry into the Space Age and as a member of the global space community! This has been the work of numerous people, institutions, stakeholders, and legislators in order to make the country’s space aspiration a reality,” said Dr. Rogel Mari Sese, an astrophysicist and the prime advocate of the policy and the current program leader of the Philippine National Space Development Program.

Once established, PhilSA will be the main government agency to take up activities and issues related to space science, space technology, and applications. These include the crafting and implementation of the country’s space policy, space-related research, and development programs.

PhilSA will cooperate with space-related agencies of other countries, like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States in the peaceful use and development of space.

The space agency will also represent the country in the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space and other similar space-related forums, assemblies, and other organizations.

Although only a budding space agency, the Philippines have already sent three small satellites into orbit via two launches, namely: Diwata-1, and Diwata-2, and the cube satellite Maya-1 with the help of Japanese institutions.

All the satellites sent into space were designed and developed by Filipino researchers through grants provided by the country’s Department of Science and Technology (DOST) “Development of Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite (PHL-Microsat)” program, which early beginnings started in 2016.

The PHL-Microsat program was, later on, succeeded by the on-going “Space Technology and Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement” (STAMINA4Space) program.

In 2018, the Ateneo de Davao University introduced a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering – the first-ever space-related course in the country.

Taking another step into the realization of the PhilSA, the country’s University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) and DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI) unveiled two new buildings called the University Laboratory for Small Satellites and Space Engineering Systems Buildings (ULyS3ES) on Saturday, August 31.

The P30 million ($500, 000) ULyS3ES building will primarily serve as a tech hub for space-related technology innovation, which will focus on allowing its own researchers and scientists to design and develop small satellites, as well as test and implement satellite bus and payload systems.

Among the testing facilities, ULyS3ES houses a Full Anechoic Chamber (FAC), which helps measure antenna radiation patterns. This system helps faster development cycle for satellite communication systems.

It also has a separate temperature, and humidity test chamber used to mimic the conditions that the satellites and other products might experience in their eventual working environment. It helps evaluate the products’ tolerance against different environmental stresses like extreme temperature and humidity, and uncover the product’s weaknesses.

“This building has the power to inspire students to pursue careers and goals in space technology, [while] establishing and developing a sustainable space program,” said UPD vice chancellor for research and development Dr. Fidel Nemenzo.

“SpaceTech is now within our reach. We need to show that science and technology are indispensable for national development as we can apply it for applications like weather prediction, disaster risk reduction and management, agriculture, and national planning,” Nemenzo added.

During the inauguration of the buildings, Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña publicly recommended Marciano to be the next Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) director-general.

“I would like Dr. Marciano to head the Philippine Space Agency because he has been involved from the very beginning and we can see that he has produced results, also together with the rest of the team,” De La Peña said.

“Anyway, it will not be a lifetime job. But just to be sure that the transition will be smooth, we are talking here about the transition in terms of personnel, in terms of assets, in terms of budget, I think it will be to the best interest of DOST and UP and the national government if we will have Dr. Marciano,” he added.

Under the law, the PhilSA Director-General has the rank of a Cabinet Secretary.

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