THE whole world is again set to witness come 2018 a third-world country launching into space another microsatellite -- this time with an amateur or ham radio included in the payload.

An amateur radio is a communication technology that allows its operators to talk or send messages to other people, especially first responders, planners and government agencies whose own communications have been knocked out, in time of disasters and emergencies.

Diwata 2 -- the Philippines' second microsatellite that is currently being developed by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, Hokkaido University, and Tohoku University in Japan -- has this technology, along with a telescope and cameras.

Its predecessor, the Diwata 1, was launched into orbit last April 2016 and has been sending pictures to DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (Asti); the latest photo posted on PHL-Microsat Program's website shows the swollen Pinacanauan River, as well as agricultural areas damaged by flood after Tropical Cyclone Lawin (Haima) made landfall in Peñablanca, Cagayan on October 19, 2016.

The PHL-Microsat said that as of January 13, the "Diwata 1 has circled the world approximately 4,083 times, taking images not just of the Philippines but also of other parts of the Earth."

"We will download the images every time the Diwata 1 passes by the Philippines," said Dr. Joel Joseph Marciano Jr., program leader of PHL-Microsat and acting director of DOST-Asti, in an interview with SunStar.

As to the amateur radio included in the payload of Diwata 2, Marciano said it is a very important feature of the second microsatellite, especially that the country is prone to natural disasters and calamities.

"So when the satellite passes over in time of disaster, you can get a ham radio and send messages to another person in other areas in the country, and even give updates on evacuation using ham radio," he told fellows of the 20th Lopez Jaena Community Journalism Workshop held in UP Diliman last November 2016.

The Philippines has more than a thousand amateur radio operators nationwide. Most of them are members of the Philippine Amateur Radio Association.

Aside from the amateur radio, Diwata 2 has a Spaceborne Multispectral Imager (SMI) with liquid crystal tunable filter (LCTF) for environmental monitoring; high precision telescope (HPT) for rapid post-disaster assessment; and enhanced resolution cameras (instead of wide and middle field cameras used in Diwata 1).

"Medium and wide cameras will be replaced by enhanced resolution cameras but there will still be the HPT and SMI with LCTF... Three cameras, plus an amateur radio as part of the payload," Marciano told SunStar.

He said 11 Filipino scholars are working on the Diwata 2.

"Mas dumami pa, because we now have 11 scholars. They are in Japan, working with the two universities (Hokkaido and Tohoku)," said Marciano.

There were only nine Filipino scholars who assembled the Diwata 1.

"They are considered as scholars because they are under the DOST scholarships, and building the microsatellites is part of their studies," added Marciano.

He said that at present, they are working on the engineering model. "We are now in the design phase. We are working on the blocks. They are being done here locally and they will be tested in Japan."

The DOST targets to launch the Diwata 2 in the first half of 2018, but Marciano said the launching will also depend on the availability of the launching facility.

"The target overall for the completion of the flight model is in December 2017," he said.

Diwata 2 will hover 400 kilometers above the Earth's surface just like Diwata 1. It also weighs 50 kilograms, the size of a room air conditioner.

"The characteristics are the same. There will be chances na mag-abot sila doon, which is an advantage to us since it will mean that we can generate more images from them... The idea is they should be operated on the same constellation. They have to communicate with other satellites to provide us better images," said Marciano.

He said the country's microsatellites are not geostationary satellites, which have an altitude of 39,000 kilometers and are more expensive.

"Diwata 2 only has 400 to 600 kilometers altitude," he said, adding that because it is a microsatellite, it is only considered a secondary payload.

"Parang nakikiangkas lang tayo sa paglaunch (We are just hitching a ride), because it is very expensive to launch big satellites. You have to pay for the rocket," he told the Lopez Jaena journalism workshop fellows.

He also said in November that the challenge of Diwata satellites' orbit is they can only take images of a certain location if they pass by it.

"Diwata 1 passes every day, but it passes in different places, so there's a challenge of being in the right place at the right time," said Marciano.

Asked about the possibility of a launching failure, Dr. Marc Caesar Talampas, project leader in-charge of the microsatellite BUS development, said in a follow-up interview: "They undergo rigorous testing before they will be launched into space. There is vibration test, radiation testing, etc. We have to comply with all the specifications."

"The failure is more on not responding, not on the launching. But so far, based on our experience with Diwata 1, the communication has been positive," added Marciano.

The government has allotted P2 billion per year for DOST's space technology program. This is on top of the P840 million that was already invested for the PHL-Microsat program.

"There's an increase in the availability of funding for research in space technology... In 2018, we will come up with a new (budget) proposal," Marciano said. (SunStar Philippines)