Three Taiwanese research institutions signed a memorandum of understanding with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in early July 2016 to jointly develop an unmanned lunar lander. Signatories included Taiwan’s National Space Organization, Academia Sinica, and the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST). NCIST will be responsible for developing the rover’s sensor system, while NASA focuses on propulsion elements. NASA is hoping to get the “Resource Prospector” mission off the ground to explore ways of exploiting significant lunar water resources, particularly in the form of ice deposits. Testing is currently slated to begin in October 2018 in the United States to prepare the module for launch in the early 2020s.
This will be the first moon mission for Taiwan and will test the ingenuity of NCSIST researchers, who must confront the technical challenges of ensuring the functionality of equipment in space. NCSIST has previously made notable contributions to international space projects such as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, conceived for the International Space Station to facilitate the detection and identification of high-energy charged particles in the universe, and the impetus behind NASA choosing Taiwan as a partner for the lunar-lander project.
US-Taiwan space cooperation began ten years ago with the 2006 launch of the COSMIC (Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate) mission, referred to as FORMOSAT-3 in Taiwan. Taiwan began its space program in 1991, yet through collaboration with the US has already participated in eight missions to send satellites into orbit. US personnel from NASA, the Air Force, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among other organizations, are currently working with their partners in the Taiwanese National Space Organization to replace the decade-old COSMIC satellite constellation with COSMIC-2/FORMOSAT-7, a twelve-satellite constellation mission tentatively scheduled to send six satellites into orbit in 2017 and the remainder in 2020. COSMIC-2 will build upon achievements from the prior mission in relaying weather and climate data to scientists back on Earth, with expectations for dramatically increased daily data-collection capabilities and markedly improved tropical cyclone forecasting.
Outer space is emerging as a major area of collaboration between the US and countries across the Asia-Pacific, to include Japan, South Korea, China, and India. In September 2014, the US Department of Defense (DoD) decided to share space data and situational awareness with Korea’s Defense Ministry. US technical assistance also helped facilitate the historic 2014 launch of India’s Mangalyaan satellite into orbit around Mars, and officials in Beijing and Washington, DC hosted inaugural meetings of the US-China Civil Space Dialogue and Space Security Exchange in September 2015 and May 2016, respectively.
Linnea Logie is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History from the University of Connecticut.