Taiwan’s US$210 million next-generation satellite constellation, Formosat 7, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Tuesday.
The project, a joint venture with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will help advance both the island’s space programme and collect reconnaissance and weather data.
The satellite was launched along with a total of 24 payloads by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket at 2.30pm Taiwan time (2.30am US East Coast Time).
It separated from the rocket about 90 minutes later. The satellite was expected to connect to a signal station in Taiwan within six hours, according to Taiwan’s National Space Organisation (NSO).
Watching the launch live at the NSO, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said the endeavour was a milestone in Taiwan’s space development and the biggest joint science programme with the United States.
“We will share its data with the rest of the world,” Tsai said.
Brent Christensen, head of the American Institute in Taiwan, which represents Washington’s interests on the island in the absence of formal ties, said the launch was the start of “a new era of great cooperation between the United States and Taiwan”.
The satellite system is the second in the world after Formosat 3 that can collect weather data through radio occultation techniques, which use remote sensing to detect changes in the atmosphere.
Formosat 3, the first satellite constellation jointly developed by Taiwan and the US, lifted off in 2006.
According to the NSO, Formosat 7 would deploy six microsatellites to gather meteorological data at low and mid latitudes on conditions such as temperature, pressure and water vapour content.
NSO officials said the satellite constellation was expected to increase the accuracy of Taiwan’s weather forecasts by at least 10 per cent.
Local news reports said that while Formosat 7 could collect more accurate data on typhoons, monsoons and other severe weather, it could also use its powerful imaging and remote sensing functions to do reconnaissance.
The system was originally expected to be launched on Saturday, but it was postponed due to technical problems with the rocket system.
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