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Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk are in the news for competing with each other in a space tourism race. Like these billionaires, the Philippines also has ambitions of exploring the final frontier — but for much more practical reasons, such as detecting illegal mining activities and measuring environmental parameters like air quality and soil moisture.
The Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA), an attached agency of the Office of the President, is in charge of handling national issues and activities related to space science and technology applications.
In this B-Side episode, PhilSA Director General Joel Joseph S. Marciano, Jr., and Deputy Director General Gay Jane P. Perez speak with BusinessWorld reporter Angelica Y. Yang about why a developing economy like the Philippines should set its sights on the stars.
Satellite imagery can be used to monitor the mining sector.
“We can leverage space capabilities on the reset-rebound-recover thrust of government by helping provide timely and accurate information for monitoring and evaluating the big-ticket projects and economic initiatives of our government,” Mr. Marciano said, referring to the administration’s renewed thrust to open up the mining sector.
Space data, in the form of satellite images, can be used to monitor mining compliance, among others.
“With the advancement of space technology and ground technologies, we can (also) perform sustainability impact assessments of specific metals and minerals. We can also use these technologies from space to detect potential disasters in the area … and detect illegal mining activities,” he explained.
Ms. Perez emphasized the value of historical data gathered satellites which provide a better understanding of the places where the mines are located.
“It’s important to know this baseline information and satellite technology has been there for…more than four decades already. This wealth of data gives us this invaluable information related to whatever we want to do with our resources,” she said.
Data from space delivers food to your doorstep.
People enjoy the benefits of earth observation satellites when they use the Google Earth, navigation apps, or food delivery platforms.
Some satellite images require analysis from experts, and eventually find their way into the public sphere.
“Some of this will land into the hands of experts who will process them and derive the information from the data and, subsequently, an interpretation. It goes to a decision maker or maybe people in charge of governance and that’s how its cascaded to people,” Mr. Marciano said.
Information, he added, gathered from satellites can warn the public about the hazards posed by certain areas during emergencies, while keeping an eye on the environment.
Paired with on-the-ground observation, satellites orbiting our planet can provide valuable insights, Ms. Perez said.
Goods that survive in space are worth more.
Products that survive in extreme conditions become increasingly valuable.
“If a cellphone screen works very well on Earth, but if you bring it to space and it continues working very well, then the value of that component increases several times. It becomes more valuable, because it has proved itself to be able to function in a harsh environment,” Mr. Marciano explained.
With this mindset, the country can branch out to products that can withstand similar environments, including places where it would be impossible to return to.
“By doing these things, we are learning as a country to build high-value, high technology products (which lead to) high-value industries and high-value jobs,” he said.
The country needs to develop a highly skilled space workforce before embarking on big projects.
PhilSA aims to build on the competencies of the workforce. Doing so brings the agency closer to its goal of launching spaceships and putting Filipinos into space.
“By having our engineers and scientists acquire the necessary training (and) education on various fields in space technology and space science, we are positioning ourselves to better undertake activities in the future. It goes as far back as training our next generation of scientists,” Ms. Perez said.
Ms. Perez recognized the importance of strengthening the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program to encourage young students to pursue careers leading to the space industry.
Before launching a spaceship or rolling out an astronaut program, the country needs to first develop “high-value and highly skilled people” supported by meaningful science, Mr. Marciano said.
“It all starts with building up our scientific capabilities and we must not lose sight of that,” he added.
The Philippines has ideal locations for space ports.
“I think in our country, there are very good areas where space ports can be located — close to ideal ones if we want to launch near the equator” Mr. Marciano said.
He explained that the country can forge international partnerships that can expedite this. The PhilSA official added that they also needed to study the possibility of launching rockets in the country, build up a skilled workforce, and develop the infrastructure for it.
Sought for comment on his outlook on the Philippine space sector, he said that he is optimistic about the development of the country’s “space ecosystem.”
“We are now able to access space with our satellites whereas decades before, perhaps it’s much harder so that presents an opportunity for us to create and add even more value to our economy by building higher value industries and efficiently utilizing space-enabled or space borne data,” he said.
This episode was recorded remotely on June 25, 2021. Produced by Paolo L. Lopez and Sam L. Marcelo.
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