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Taiwan’s First Homegrown GPS Receiver Passes Space Test

Raising hopes for Taiwan’s home-grown satellite development programme, Taiwan’s first locally made Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver for satellite missions has functioned normally and passed key environmental tests during nearly two months in space. Certainly, this can be a big first step for the country’s drive to expand its technological capabilities in light of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0).

The developer of the GPS receiver is Taiwan’s space agency, the National Space Organisation (NSPO). In a recent statement, NSPO revealed that the device was launched into space on a Taiwan-developed IRIS-A CubeSat early this year in January. Most importantly, the agency declared that said GPS device has since orbited 500 kilometres above the Earth’s surface with no major issues.

That means that since being launched,  the receiver has operated normally and passed rigorous environmental tests. As a result, it has gained “flight heritage,” a term used to describe the situation when technology becomes viable for commercial use.

Indeed, flight heritage is essential for any space-based product. The greater flight heritage a space device accumulates, the greater credibility and trust it builds and consequently, the more commercially viable it becomes. While flight heritage is vital, the problem is it can be hard for space product developers to get their products into orbit.

But the NPSO was able to hurdle that. It did so by hitching a ride on a CubeSat – a miniature satellite used primarily for space research. Specifically, it teamed up with National Cheng Kung University, a leading Taiwanese university in Taiwan that is known worldwide for pushing the envelope in engineering research.  The university developed the IRIS-A CubeSat to get the GPS device into space.

Already, industry experts consider the success of the space-bound GPS receiver as a big leap for Taiwan. This is echoed by NSPO Director Wu Jong-shinn who concluded that the milestone is a key step in the agency’s drive to develop and produce satellites with 70 per cent of their components made in Taiwan.

In addition, Wu revealed that the country has relied mostly upon foreign GPS receivers before. But that is about to change.

Already, a whole range of practical applications awaits the NPSO space-borne GPS receiver. As per the plan, the device shall be used in the following satellites in the near future:

  • Triton: an NSPO-manufactured “wind-hunter” satellite
  • Formosat-8 satellites
  • Synthetic aperture radar satellites

Satellites in space greatly enhance the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) capabilities of a nation. Communications satellites are used for television, telephone, radio, internet, and military applications.

Deploying GPS receivers on satellites constitutes huge savings for the country’s satellite industry. The GPS receiver it developed will improve satellites’ ability to navigate and reduce the cost of satellite missions.GPS was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense and launched in 1973 using 24 satellites. Initially, it was used for military purposes but was allowed for civilian use in the 1980s.

Taiwan is gearing up for greater things ahead. To date, the island nation is considered the “chip capital” of the world. And as reported on OpenGov Asia, its semiconductor industry is bound to even get stronger with the advent of electric cars and smart driver assistance programs.

Its rapid transition as a digital economy should help the country’s overall economy move forward. Its digital transformation is anything but subtle. Just recently, Taiwan has established an AI HUB making it a top contender as the Artificial Intelligence capital of the region — if not the world.

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