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2003-12-24 15:56:24

    Taipei, Dec. 23 (CNA) A scientific space exploration rocket will be launched from a base in southern Taiwan Wednesday evening, one day later than its original schedule, officials from the Cabinet-level National Science Council (NSC) said Wednesday.

    The launch was postponed when an unidentified vessel intruded unexpectedly into the restricted sea area that was zoned for the launch, coupled with bad weather, NSC officials said.

    The space exploration rocket, the third of its kind to be built by the military Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CIST), will be launched from a CIST base located in Chiupeng, Pingtung County, NSC officials went on.

    The launch of the rocket, whose range is not in excess of 300 kilometers, is mainly aimed at gaining a better observation of the earth's ionosphere, NSC Vice Chairman Hsieh Ching-chih said a day earlier.

    Noting that objects placed into orbit less than 300 km from the earth's surface are highly prone to falling back to earth, Hsieh said that no satellites are orbiting in the region between 60 km and 400 km from the earth's surface. This part of the ionosphere has long been referred to in jest as an "uncharted zone," he said.

    The rocket will be carrying scientific instruments to explore and measure the ionosphere. According to Hsieh, the first such rocket was successfully launched about three years ago, but it did not carry any research gear. The second rocket did carry such equipment, but its launch two years ago failed, he said.

    Taiwan's space program, under the charge of the NSC Space Program Development Preparatory Office, is aimed at carrying out the research, development and launch of basic space exploration rockets before 2009 and of multi-functional space exploration rockets by 2018, he noted.

    The CIST builds and launches the rockets under a contract signed with the NSC Space Program Development Preparatory Office at a cost of NT$25 million (US$735,294) per unit, he said.

    Mainland Chinese maritime research vessels have been discovered operating in areas very close to Taiwan's economic waters on more than 12 occasions over the past year and an official Website of the mainland Chinese authorities has been found to have closely monitored Taiwan's space development program and reported every relevant activity in detail on its Website, including the rocket launches.

(By Deborah Kuo)


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