‘Welcome back, Diwata-1. Thank you’

An actual photo of Diwata-1 taken by a Nasa astronaut during the microsatellite’s release from the Kibo experimental module on the International Space Station in April 2016. Stamina4Space/PHL-Microsat

“Welcome back, Diwata-1. Thank you!”

This was the greeting, a farewell one of sorts, to Diwata-1 microsatellite that Stamina4Space/PHL-Microsat postedon its Facebook account on April 6.

The reason: the microsatellite descended and entered the boundary between the outer space and the Earth’s atmosphere, that gave it “very low chances of establishing contacts” because it is “extremely low.”

“This, therefore, marks the official end of the [four-year] mission lifetime of Diwata-1,” Stamina4Space/PHL-Microsat said.

Diwata-1 was at an altitude of approximately 114 kilometers based on the telemetry data received from the satellite on April 6 at 04:49 a.m, said Stamina4Science/PHL-Microsat, which is short for Sustained Support for Local Space Technology and Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement/Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite.

“This altitude is very close to the Karman line, or the widely accepted boundary between outer space and the Earth’s atmosphere. It is expected that beyond this altitude, the chances of successfully establishing contact with Diwata-1 are extremely low,” it said.

Deployed from ISS in April 2016

The 3-year microsatellite program costs P840.82 million, the DOST said. 

The 50-kg microsatellite was deployed from the Kibo module of the International Space Station on April 27, 2016.

It was a low Earth orbit satellite with an estimated altitude of 400 to 420 kilometers and a speed of around 7 kilometers per second.

As such, its low altitude gave Diwata-1 an atmospheric drag and made it decay faster, UP Assistant Professor Mark Edwin A. Tupas told the BusinessMirror in an earlier interview.

“It is estimated that starting April 2019 it [Diwata-1] will start its decay in orbit because its altitude is getting lower,” Tupas said.

As such, the microsatellite is expected to deteriorate in space as it started to burn-up due to friction with the atmosphere, Aerospace Engineer Ariston Gonzalez, who worked on both Diwata-1 and Diwata-2 microsatellite projects, said in the Stamina4Space/PHL-Microsat Facebook account.

Diwata-1 was originally expected to stay in orbit for only 20 months.

Data collected

Gonzalez said Diwata-1 has  traveled over 938 million kilometers around the Earth—like “roundtrip from Earth to the Sun three times, or circumnavigating the Earth more than 23-thousand times!”

He added that the microsatellite has captured more than 17,000 images of the Earth, majority over the Philippine.

Its high-precision telescope was able to collect data on damage extent during disasters and calamities, imaging of natural and cultural heritage sites, determine the health and composition of the ocean, identify distribution and magnitude of harmful algal blooms, and monitor coastal ecosystems, can complement current weather forcasting capabilities, the Stamina4Space/PHL-Microsat web sie said.

Philippine space program

An initiative of Japan’s Tohoku University and Hokkaido University, the microsatellite project was part of the then-PHL-Microsat program, which is now known as Stamina4Space/PHL-Microsat program.

The project was in collaboration with DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (Asti), DOST-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development, and University of the Philippines.

These collaborations brought the launching in space of Maya-1 cube satellite in June 2018 and the improved Diwata-2 in October 2018. The two microsatellites are still in orbit. three-year program funded by the DOST with a budget of P800 million.

They are included in the three-year small satellite program funded by the DOST with a budget of P800 million.

These small satellite projects are part of the country’s 10-year space program, which gave birth to the enactment of Philippine Space Act, creating the Philippine Space Agency. The law was signed by President Duterte in August 2019.

Diwata-1 decommissioning

Stamina4Space/PHL-Microsat has announced as early as March 23 that Diwata-1 has entered into the decommissioning stage as the continuous decline of its altitude was observed, it said in its Facebook account.

Since then, the Stamina4Space/PHL-Microsat team, the Philippine Earth Data Resource and Observation Center at DOST-Asti, along with the students and professors at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, have been closely monitoring its health and status.

Stamina4Space/PHL-Microsat added that amid the current Covid-19 community quarantine measures, the team has managed to connect through remote access to its facilities and collect valuable data on the status of Diwata-1.

“We have observed that Diwata-1’s altitude was decaying at an increasing rate each day, reaching 18.7km/day as of our last estimate,” it said.

“To Diwata-1, we say: ‘Welcome back, home!'” said Stamina4Space/PHL-Microsat in its social media account.

It added: “You will always be remembered for opening the horizons of space to the Philippines. You have, in many ways, exceeded our expectations in your four years of service. We shall build upon your legacy as we continue to explore new frontiers and forge ahead with the future of the Philippine space program. Thank you. Domo arigato. Salamat po. Mabuhay ka at Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!”

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