First Taiwan-built satellite launched

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The satellite will be used to collect data to evaluate the impact of natural disasters and monitor environmental changes on Earth. PHOTO: NASA.GOV

TAIPEI - Lift-off, finally. Taiwan's first locally built satellite has officially been launched into space.

Riding on a rocket owned by private spaceflight company SpaceX, the micro-satellite Formosat-5 blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Friday (Aug25), four years late.

The 450kg satellite, which will be used to collect data to evaluate the impact of natural disasters and monitor environmental changes on Earth, was riding on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.

Friday's launch, at 2.50am Singapore time, was SpaceX's ninth successful lift-off and landing on its drone ship in the Pacific Ocean this year.

Formosat-5's launch, which had been planned for as early as 2013, was eventually pencilled for October last year. But a failed rocket testat SpaceX further pushed back the launch.

The NT$5.65 billion (S$250 million) satellite is designed and built from scratch by scientists and engineers from Taiwan's National Space Organisation, whose space programme started in 1991. It replaces Formosat-2, which was retired last August. Previous satellite launches by the island involved construction efforts by foreign companies.

Now in orbit, Formosat-5 is establishing communication contact with ground control in Taiwan. Once contact has been made, scientists are expected to confirm the health status of the satellite.

It will be in orbit for the next five years, carrying out environmental monitoring missions that will collect data for national security and disaster prevention, as well as scientific and academic uses.

With the successful launch of Formosat-5, Taiwan joins a growing list of places in the region to have their own satellites in space.

In a video clip, President Tsai Ing-wen said the successful launch represented a "big leap" in Taiwan's space technology.

She urged scientists to continue working to make more breakthroughs.

Earlier on Thursday, Ms Tsai said in a Facebook post that the launch "carried the skills and dreams of the Taiwanese people".

According to Taiwan's Central News Agency, American Institute in Taiwan chairman James Moriarty said the successful satellite launch could present the possibility of future scientific collaborations between Taiwan and the United States.

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