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Aerospace & Defense

Taiwan-US satellite constellation launched into space

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, carrying the U.S. Air Force's Space Test Program 2 Mission, lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S. on June 25.   © Reuters

TAIPEI (Kyodo) -- Six satellites used in Taiwan's second space collaboration project with the United States were launched into orbit on Tuesday afternoon, aimed at improving weather forecasts and space weather monitoring, the government said.

The microsatellites, launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, are part of a collaborative program between Taiwan's National Space Organization and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The data generated by the mission, known to Taiwan as Formosat-7 and to the U.S. side as Cosmic-2, will be used to predict weather and climate and to monitor dynamic changes in Earth's ionosphere, leading to improved weather and solar forecasts.

The volume of data will be three to four times that of Formosat-3 constellation that was launched by the two sides in 2006.

Unlike Formosat-3, whose six satellites orbited Earth in nearly polar orbits, the six Formosat-7 satellites will orbit near the equator.

That will enable them to gather information about the vertical temperature and humidity of the atmosphere in the tropics, which hold most of the moisture that drives global weather patterns.

After viewing a live feed of the launch at the organization's headquarters, President Tsai Ing-wen said it "marks a milestone in Taiwan's space development" in the wake of the launch two years ago of Formosat-5, the self-ruled island's first indigenously developed optical remote sensing satellite.

Tsai said the new satellite constellation will become the "best thermometer in space."

"Taiwan will launch a new satellite into orbit on an annual basis to show our determination in space tech development," she said.

Calling the launch a "historic moment," Brent Christensen, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington's representative office in Taipei in lieu of diplomatic ties, applauded the work of the U.S. and Taiwan teams.

"When the United States and Taiwan put their minds together, great things happen," Christensen said, adding that both sides should "keep reaching for the stars."

As Taiwan and the United States celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act this year, Christensen said the launch "serves as testimony of our close cooperation and strong partnership in science and technology."

The U.S. Congress enacted the act in 1979 to sustain substantive relations after Washington broke diplomatic ties with Taipei and established them with Beijing.

Taiwan began its space program in 1991 and has sent nine satellites into space. Currently, only one satellite of the Formosat-3 constellation and Formosat-5 are in operation.

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