Monday, December 31, 2007

RazakSAT: Better 'eye' in space for Malaysia

Weighing 180kg and with a 2.5m resolution, the country's second remote-sensing satellite is set to provide images of Malaysia every 100 minutes.

The RazakSAT, ready since early last year, is expected to be launched into space by the middle of next year using the Falcon 1 launch vehicle from Omelek island in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The satellite was jointly developed by Astronautic Technology (M) Sdn Bhd (ATSB) and a South Korean company, Satellite Technology Research Center Initiative Co Ltd.

Although the launch was planned for early this year, the RazakSAT programme has been delayed because of the development of Falcon 1.

The cost of the RazakSAT programme is RM60 million.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jamaludin Jarjis said Malaysia was currently buying its images from other countries.

"We are spending RM18 million on a three-year contract to buy images from one satellite. Now, we want to increase our capacity in manufacturing satellites and produce our images instead of buying them from other countries," he said. Also in the pipeline, he said, were deals to manufacture remote-sensing satellites for other countries. "We are very excited about this as we now have the capacity to build and export. Many countries need images to manage floods and the economy, among other things. They need satellites for these."

The country's first remote-sensing satellite, TiungSAT, launched into space in 2000, has four cameras compared with RazakSAT's one. However, TiungSAT has only a 78m resolution which means it can only capture images of vast areas such as oceans and mountain ranges.

"TiungSAT's images are more useful for weather patterns as they capture large areas and geographical features, including sedimentation. RazakSAT's 2.5m resolution, however, can zoom in on a large vehicle," said ATSB senior general manager Norhizam Hamzah. These images, he said, would be good for mapping purposes, land utilisation, forestry and town planning, as well as agriculture, as the health and yield of crops could be monitored. "It can be a very important decision-making tool even for commercial purposes, as you can estimate crop yields and forecast its market prices.

"It can also be used for security purposes as the satellite will be able to capture large movements of forces, such as a convoy of trucks." Norhizam said RazakSAT's resolution was about the same as the commercial satellite Spot-5, but at a tenth of its cost. He said, generally, remote-sensing satellites orbit near 90 degrees to the equator but the RazakSAT would be orbiting at a nine-degree incline to the equator which would allow it to capture images of the country every 100 minutes.

On TiungSAT, Norhizam said it was still orbiting but had outlived its use. "TiungSAT was designed for a two-year mission but has lasted four years. It detected cosmic radiation from space and we now have a map of all the radiation it experienced within the orbit it passed."



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