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ECCT Space Day in Hsinchu

On 20 October, the ECCT's Technology committee arranged an exclusive trip to Taiwan's leading space technology institution, the National Space Organization (NSPO). The trip featured a meeting with Dr GS Chang, Director-General of the NSPO, tours of the NSPO's Multi-satellite Operation Control Center and Satellite Integration & Testing Facility, a presentation over lunch with guest speaker Lin Chen-tsung on the subject of GNSS activities in Taiwan and a networking session with innovative industry players. The event was arranged to complement the efforts of the GNSS Asia programme, which aims to foster EU-Taiwan partnerships to develop satellite and related technology.

The NSPO was established in 1991 and is the sole institute in charge of the execution of Taiwan's national space programme and the development of space technology in Taiwan. The NSPO is actively working to build self-reliance in space technology through the execution of its FORMOSAT-5 and FORMOSAT-7 satellite programmes, which focus on remote sensing and meteorology.

Taiwan currently has eight satellites in orbit and plans to launch another seven in 2016, as part of the FORMOSAT-7 programme. All the satellites are so-called low-orbit satellites, orbiting at less than 1,000 kilometres away from earth. The NSPO has recently developed the first space-grade GPS receiver in Taiwan, which could be used, for example, in autonomous navigation for satellites but also for other applications such as drones and cars.In the first part of the tour, visitors were given a behind-the-scenes viewing and introduction to NSPO's Multi-satellite Operation Control Center. From the centre operators monitor satellites and send commands, such as when to take images or adjust course. Guests could see large displays of maps showing the real-time location of all NSPO satellites in orbit and data on each satellite indicating, for example, the exact time that they will next pass over Taiwan.
Given the speed at which satellites travel, getting an image of a targeted area requires very precise timing. For example, taking a photo one second too late from one of the FORMOSAT satellites would capture an image eight kilometres off target.

From the Operation Control Center visitors were taken to an observation deck overlooking the Satellite Integration & Testing Facility. Here they viewed engineers working on real satellites and putting them through various tests. In the first testing phase, satellites are subject to acoustic and vibration tests to make sure they can withstand the noise and vibration required to get launched into orbit. In the second phase, they are placed in vacuum chambers (to simulate space conditions) and are subjected to extreme temperatures (as low as -200 degrees and as high as 170 degrees celcius).

After the tour, visitors enjoyed lunch with guest speaker Lin Chen-tsung, director of the NSPO's Flight Control Division and project manager of the FORMOSAT-7 project. In his presentation Lin spoke about the work he and a team he leads is doing to develop space-grade inertial reference unit MEMS sensors, space-grade GPS receivers and GNSS-reflectometry instruments. Lin explained that components for satellites have to be not only extremely accurate but also extremely robust to survive first their launch into space and then the harsh conditions of space, where temperatures range from minus 30 degrees celcius to 70 degrees and back again 14 times a day, depending on their proximity to the sun. Given that the maintenance of satellites is impossible (unless you have a space shuttle), every precaution has to be taken to ensure that all components are in perfect condition at the outset and that they work well with other components before they are launched into orbit.

After lunch, visitors enjoyed a coffee networking session with satellite technology experts.