by Jose Sealtiel Cruz

Diwata-1, the first Filipino-made satellite, comes home – or at least into decommissioning, after four years of surveying the Philippine skies.

Stamina4Space/PHL-Microsat said thanks to Diwata-1 on April 6 after the microsatellite’s transmitted data show that it was at an altitude of 114 kilometers above Earth, breaching the boundary between Earth and outer space (called the Karman line).

Diwata-1 is expected to degrade quicker as it continues its descent due to atmospheric friction, heating up and eventually burning the microsatellite. This can be seen in the last set of transmitted data: panel temperatures have spiked to 100°C while battery temperature has reached 50°C, in a Facebook post by Delburg Mitchao, a project proponent. The satellite’s battery temperature usually ranges from 20-25°C while in service.

The satellite helped observe more than a third of Philippine land throughout its four-year lifetime.

Conceiving a Diwata

Diwata-1 is the first microsatellite conceived by the Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite program, or the PHL-Microsat Program, a project by the Department of Science and Technology – Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI) and the University of the Philippines, with the cooperation of Tohuku and Hokkaido Universities in Japan.

A microsatellite is an artificial satellite with a wet mass – or a satellite’s mass with fuel – between 10 and 100 kilograms. Diwata-1 weighs in at 50 kilograms.

The program “aims to build, launch and effectively utilize micro-satellite technology for multispectral, high precision earth observation,” according to its website.

Ultimately, the three-year microsatellite program is set to create two microsatellites and is given a budget of more than P800-M, more than P300-M of which shouldered by the Philippine government as part of the DOST’s 10-year Space Technology Development Program with a P24-B budget.

The microsatellite was built starting 2014 by a team of nine Filipino engineers – dubbed as the “Magnificent 9” – who signed up for the momentous task. They were given scholarships to take Aerospace Engineering degrees in the Japanese universities specializing in satellite development alongside an allowance while working to build Diwata. However, issues have arisen from a project proponent due to their work conditions and confusing involvement.

Diwata-1 has three key features: a high precision telescope that can show the extent of damages brought by disasters and changes in the country’s heritage sites; the Spaceborne Multispectral Imager that can monitor changes in agricultural produce and ocean conditions; and a wide field camera that can help in weather forecasting through cloud pattern imaging. The microsatellite is not built to track typhoons nor is it useful for telecommunications purposes.

Diwata-1 was launched to space on 21 March 2016 as part of the payload of Cygnus, an unmanned cargo ship used to send supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). In the ISS, it was housed in the Japanese Experimentation Module (JEM), until it was formally deployed on 27 April 2016 by the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer.

The microsatellite was the first 50-kilogram microsatellite deployed by JEM. It travelled at 7 kilometers per second at an altitude of around 400 to 420 kilometers above Earth, or at Low Earth Orbit. It transmits data to PEDRO, or the Philippine Earth Data Resources Observation Center, located at DOST-ASTI, Diliman, Quezon City.

It was first estimated that Diwata-1 would have a life of 18 months, but favourable conditions allowed Diwata-1 to live for four years.

More eyes in the sky

The success of Diwata-1 helped pave the way in launching more space programs in the country.

The PHL-Microsat Program has created two more satellites within its duration: the Diwata-1 successor aptly named Diwata-2 and nanosatellite Maya-1. Maya-1, a cube satellite (CubeSat) weighing about one kilogram, was deployed from the ISS on 10 August 2018.

Diwata-2 is a microsatellite of the same mass and is made for the same purposes as Diwata-1; however, it is also equipped with an amateur radio to provide better means of communication. It was launched directly to orbit on 29 October 2018 at an altitude 200 kilometers higher than Diwata-1.

UP and DOST inaugurated the University Laboratory for Small Satellites and Space Engineering Systems (ULyS³ES) on 31 August 2019. Housed in UP Diliman’s Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute (UPD-EEEI), the laboratory boasts of facilities for the creation and development of small satellites.

Furthermore, UPD-EEEI also started offering a graduate track on nanosatellite engineering with the Space Science and Technology Proliferation Through University Partnerships (STeP-UP).

The PHL-Microsat program was replaced in 2019 with the STAMINA4Space program, short for Sustained Support for Local Space Technology & Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement, after the former program’s success. Ultimately, the success of the microsatellite program helped in the creation of the Philippine Space Agency through Republic Act No. 11363, or the Philippine Space Act.

Diwata-1 is more than a project, for it helped realize that space is not out of reach for the aspiring Filipino.

“A lot of kids in the Philippines before [would] think of space as part of science fiction. But what this means is that for our young engineers and scientists in the Philippines, given enough support, they can actually achieve what first-world countries are doing with technology,” said Dr. Fidel Nemenzo, at the time the Vice Chancellor for Research and Development and currently Chancellor of UP Diliman, in an article by Rappler following the successful launch of Diwata-1.

Three additional cubesats, named Maya 2, Maya 3, and Maya 4, are slated for deployment this year, in a presentation by DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña.

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