Currently, there are four major vehicles for conducting near-Earth space science researches: ground surveillance equipments, sounding balloons, sounding rockets, and satellites. Each of these four types of vehicles has its unique features and limitations. These vehicles do not replace each other in terms of functions. Instead, they compliment each other. For example, the sounding rocket compliments the sounding balloons and satellites' deficiencies in space exploration. The sounding balloon's exploration range is within the atmosphere up to 50 kilometers above the ground while the satellite is typically for the space exploration at an altitude 300 kilometers and beyond. Therefore, scientific rockets fill in the gap by conducting exploration at the altitude between 50 to 300 kilometers.
Until now, there have been tens of thousands rocket exploration experiments conducted throughout the world. Countries, like USA, Japan, Russia, China, Canada, India, Brazil, and Korea, with national space programs also have projects in space exploration with rockets. Besides the national rocket space-exploration projects, some universities also have launch sites for launching sounding rockets. For example, University of Alaska, Fairbank's launch site is located at Poker Flat Research Range. Normally, countries with rocket space-exploration projects only conduct the exploration project over their own aerial territories. Therefore, data collected through Taiwan's rocket space- exploration experiment within its aerial territory have the uniqueness in scientific values due to Taiwan's proximity to the earth's equator.
The beginning of Taiwan's rocket space-exploration program can be traced back to 1997, when National Space Organization (NSPO) is responsible for providing supports to the development of rocket space-exploration technologies. From 1997 to 2003, there are three launches of sounding rockets. To compliment the second phase of Taiwan's national space technology long-term development plan, the sounding rocket space exploration project was established. The timeframe of the second phase sounding rocket project is 15 years, from January 2004 to December 2018, and 10 ~ 15 sounding rockets will be launched during this time period. Leading by NSPO, the sounding rocket's scientific payload will be solicited through an open process. The research institutes in Taiwan are encouraged to present their long-term scientific research and payload instrument development plans.
To lower the development costs of the sounding rocket development in the early stage of the project, the guidance and control systems are not incorporated. The sounding rocket takes an aerodynamics stabilized missile trajectory flight after launch. Fins and stabilizers on the rocket make the center of pressure behind its center of gravity in order to keep the rocket's stability in flight. These aerodynamic surfaces also create a steady spin along the rocket's axis to prevent it from entering the roll coupling instability mode.
The basic sounding rocket has the following specifications:
Maximum Rocket Altitude: 200~300 kilometers
Maximum Rocket Range: 100~200 kilometers
Flight Time: 300~1000 seconds
Rocket Height: Approximately 8 meters
Rocket Weight: Less than 2000 kilograms
Rocket can be launched at an angle of elevation greater than 75°