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TSLV Taiwan Small Launch Vehicle

The first phase of Taiwan's National Long-Range Space Technology Development Plan came to an end in 2006. The second phase of the space program, while upholding the spirit of not contravening international missile anti-proliferation treaties, would attempt to develop vertical and horizontal space exploration rockets with ranges not in excess of 300 km, to gain better observation capabilities of the earth's ionosphere.

One report in 2004 suggested that Taiwan had developed plans to produce 30 surface-to-surface ballistic missiles with a 2,000km range and 120 surface-to-surface ballistic missiles with a 1,000km-range, based on domestically produced missiles.

National Space Program Office (NSPO, 170 employees, USD 66 million annual budget) Director Lance Wu met with AIT on 20 June 2006 to provide an update on Taiwan's space program. Wu said he was pleased with the first 15 year stage of Taiwan's space program which has seen the successful launch of Formosat-2 (a remote sensing satellite) and Formosat-3 (a weather satellite). In the next 15-year stage, he said, Taiwan's top priority is to build by 2009 a satellite for the German RapidEye AG company's cluster of six satellites. RapidEye AG is already providing information from satellites to aid in cartography, agriculture and disaster surveys. The Taiwan-built satellite will have a resolution of 6.5 meters and be primarily used for land surveys. Wu said NSPO had negotiated a deal with California-based Space-X company to launch the satellite at half the price that a Chinese or Indian launch vehicle would cost. Space-X's first test launch attempt in the Marshall Islands ended in failure.

Wu explained that the first 100 percent Taiwan-made satellite would be launched in 2011. Wu told AIT that there were also classified plans to design and build a satellite launch vehicle modeled on ionosphere sounding rockets currently in use. Wu said this would be strictly a backup vehicle in case Space-X was not able to launch Taiwan's satellite. Taiwan also has many firms building computer software and hardware and hoped to better market these products. Wu said that NSPO's main contractor for computer hardware and software was the Acer company.

While science was still one of the primary motivators for Taiwan's fledgling satellite program, the growing involvement of the MND and the intent to build a domestic launch vehicle indicate that the satellite program will have military uses as well. This could mean that both future development and funding of projects would be less transparent.

Reports emerged in 2008 that Taiwan’s National Space Program Office (NSPO) had long-term plans to develop an indigenous satellite and launcher for scientific use. At the 2008 Fourth Asian Space Conference a paper presented by NSPO officials said the agency’s first choice to launch FORMOSAT-6, a micro-satellite under development to carry out scientific investigation, would be the Taiwan Small Launch Vehicle (TSLV). The TSLV would be locally built in cooperation with CSIST and used to propel locally made satellites weighing between 50kg and 200kg into orbit.

But in 2008, the originally planned "Formosat-6" (Formosat-6) was to be launched on its own with Taiwan’s self-made carrier rocket, but due to the change of political parties, the government decoupled science from the military. This forced Taiwan’s autonomous launch capabilities to "go underground", and instead actively focused on satellite development and research, and sounding rocket projects. Therefore, launch vehicle activities were silent for a time before revived.

National Space Program Office (NSPO) Director Miau Jiun-jih met with AIT on 01 April 2009 to provide an update on Taiwan's space program. Unlike his predecessor Lance Wu, Miau appears to be much more a hands-on scientist than a wheeler dealer. Miau indicated that NSPO's next project will be a Taiwan Small Launch Vehicle (TSLV), a locally-built launcher that NSPO will develop with the Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology. The TLSV will be used to send locally-developed 50-200kg satellites into orbit. He said a 2012 test launch is scheduled for a 50 kilogram satellite to collect data on disaster management and environmental observation as well as to develop payload instrumentation for scientific research. Miau said NSPO was anxious for U.S. views on the development of TSLV.

NSPO had long planned to develop a native launch capability for its satellites. Because the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology is an adjunct of the Ministry of National Defense, the involvement of the military in this project is certain to cause concerns. NSPO is aware of U.S. sensitivity on this issue, and is keen to know what the U.S. reaction would be if Taiwan developed a native launch capability for its satellite program.

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