Science and tech ‘para sa bayan’
A recent milestone in Filipino science and technology deserves applause: the successful launch of microsatellite Diwata-2, designed and built by Filipino engineers.
This was the first time a Filipino-made microsat was launched directly into space, and when it made contact with the ground receiving station at the Tanegashima Space Center south of Tokyo, the moment was aptly met with cheers.
Is costly space technology important for the Philippines, where majority of the population remain mired in poverty and social inequality?
Yes, it is. Diwata-2 will continue the work of Diwata-1, which was launched two years ago and will reach its life cycle by the end of this month.
The two earth-observing microsats are programmed to capture data and images from about 1,000 selected areas in the Philippines that, in turn, will be used to observe weather disturbances, vegetation and the environment, and to assist in disaster risk management and environmental monitoring.
During disasters, the satellites will help determine the extent of the damage.
Such technology is thus essential to the Philippines, which stands today as one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change.
It was Diwata-1 that captured the eye of Typhoon “Ompong” on Sept. 15 as it ravaged the northern part of the Philippines; the satellite has so far taken more than 30,000 other images from space since its launch.
Diwata-2 will orbit at a higher altitude of 620 kilometers than Diwata-1, and is projected to last three to five years in space.
Better images could be expected from this new satellite, as it has an increased power generation output that will enhance camera resolution and improve picture quality.
It also has an amateur radio unit that can serve as an alternative means of communication during emergencies when other commercial channels are down, and in disaster relief operations.
The two microsats, built by a team of engineers from the University of the Philippines and science researchers from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-Advanced Science and Technology Institute, are part of the P800-million Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite (PHL-Microsat) program. The program aims to build and launch microsatellites in three years.
Dr. Gay Jane Perez, one of the project leaders of PHL-Microsat, has been separately recognized for her research on the use of satellite data to forecast drought and identify ideal planting areas and seasons that could result in improved crop yield for farmers. For her research, Perez was awarded this year’s Asean-US Science Prize for Women—the first Filipino to bag the recognition. Judges said they were impressed with her work not because it was groundbreaking, but because it was readily applicable.
Perez and the teams behind Diwata-1 and Diwata-2 are just among a growing number of Filipino scientists who are blazing a trail in science and technology. Maria Yzabell Angel Palma, 19 years old and from Bicol, has invented technology that could make air-conditioners more energy-efficient. With DOST assistance, she has applied for a patent for her “AirDisc” prototype, which leaves little to no carbon footprint by consuming less energy and by not using any chemical refrigerants.
Said Perez: “What we’re doing does not immediately translate to an effect that will directly impact the people… But as scientists and engineers, ultimately at the back of our minds, these things we
develop will be useful for the Filipinos—para sa bayan—in response to their needs.”
There is good news for science and space geeks who wish to follow in their footsteps.
DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña recently said the department will have an additional P245 million for the Space Technology Development Program in 2019, which would fund, among others, scholarships in space engineering and projects to develop and build satellites right here in the country, in collaboration with local universities. DOST is also lobbying for the passage of a bill that will create the Philippine Space Agency.
These steps by the government, and the hard work of largely unheralded Filipino scientists, should encourage more Filipinos to take an interest in these fields.
Science and technology, boosted by public funding and harnessed to progressive policymaking, may spell the difference in the wellbeing of the country and its people.
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