Science geeks rejoice. Republic Act No11363 or the Philippine Space Act, which lays the groundwork for the country’s space technology roadmap in the next decade through the creation of the Philippine Space Agency (Philsa) – was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this month.
This makes the Philippines the sixth country in Southeast Asia to have its own space agency after Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Philsa, with an initial funding of 10 billion pesos ($191 million) spread over five years, will support research and development programmes aimed at improving the lives of Filipinos, as well as enhancing the country’s national security.
It will organise all space-related activities focusing on six areas – national security and development; hazard management and climate studies; space research and development; space industry capacity-building; space education and awareness; and international cooperation.
In the mid-1960s, the government built a ground satellite station in Rizal and entered into a joint venture to put up the Philippine Communications Satellite (Philcomsat).
Philcomsat had an exclusive franchise for satellite communication in Southeast Asia, South Korea and Japan, and provided the equipment that allowed Asians to watch the Apollo 11 launch on July 16, 1969.
Over the past decades, the country has moved forward – though very slowly – in space technology, with the help of other countries.
It reached a big breakthrough when in April 2016, Diwata-1, the first micro-satellite owned by the government and developed by local engineers, was launched into orbit. Two other satellites have since been launched – Maya-1 in June 2018 and Diwata-2 in October last year.
“When you talk about the Philippine Space programme, normally, the first thing that comes to mind is sending people to space,” said Dr Rogel Mari Sese, an astrophysicist and one of Philsa’s main proponents.
“What we are more concerned about is bringing the benefits of space technologies and applications to the Philippines.”
These applications include transmitting signals for TV, mobile phones and broadband.
Space science can also capture satellite images that help scientists monitor environmental conditions. During disasters, it can identify affected areas and their accessibility.
In an archipelago like the Philippines, this will also greatly improve connectivity between islands. The technology can also monitor areas like the West Philippine Sea, a flashpoint for unsanctioned activities.
With its funding and over 1,000 space science experts “ready, willing and able” to join Philsa, the new space law should improve the country’s space technology capabilities and encourage more youth to pursue space science.
PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ANN