Last month, the Philippines signaled plans to launch additional cube satellites later this year. While the development was expected and part of ongoing efforts, it nonetheless highlighted part of the Southeast Asian state’s outlook towards an aspect of its overall approach to space.
As I have observed before in these pages, the Philippines’ development of its space capabilities has been in the headlines in recent years, including collaboration with other countries as well as the setting up of the new space agency last year under President Rodrigo Duterte.
One aspect of this is the launching of smaller Philippine satellites. These include microsatellites such as Diwata-1 and Diwata-2 that can be used for capturing images for remote sensing, research, and data-gathering, as well as smaller cube satellites usually sent to low earth orbit and meant to provide initial hands-on experience in developing satellites, with a case in point being Maya 1 which was developed by Filipino students at the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) in Japan and launched in 2018.
Last month, this aspect of the Philippines’ capabilities was in the spotlight again with an announcement of the launching of additional cube satellites. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said in February that it was looking to launch a few additional cube satellites in 2020.
The announcement of the expected launching of three cube satellites – Maya 2, Maya 3, Maya 4 – was disclosed in a media presentation on February 20 by DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña, per the Philippines News Agency (PNA) in a media report released March 11. Mara Mendoza, a member of the Space Science Proliferation through University Partnerships (Step-UP) project under which Maya cube satellites in question were developed, told PNA that the additional cube satellites, which weigh about one kilogram and measure 10 centimeters on each side, would help the Philippines achieve more “continuous coverage” of the country, with the satellites being able to last between six months to more than a year in orbit and passing through to capture the Philippines for roughly twice a day for six to ten minutes.
To be sure, as noted above, the cube satellites have limited capabilities, with microsatellites such as the Diwata-1 and Diwata-2 having better cameras and more payloads. And some specifics remain undisclosed, including the exact launch date of the cube satellites which depends on various factors including coordination with partners as well as regulatory bodies. Nonetheless, the plans in the works nonetheless spotlighted one aspect of the Philippines’ capabilities in this regard.