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FORMOSAT-3 Completes its Mission with Honor NSPO


The FORMOSAT-3/COSMIC satellites were launched successfully from the Minotaur 1 rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, USA, on April 15, 2006. The original expected mission design life was five years. After fourteen years of successful operation under the auspices of AIT and TECRO, the National Space Organization (NSPO, an affiliate of National Applied Research Laboratories (NARLabs)) officially announced today (4/30) that the mission of FORMOSAT-3 has come to an end with great success. The FORMOSAT-3 completes its mission on May 1, 2020 with honor.

FORMOSAT-3 Mission Completed

FORMOSAT-3 has been operating for many years and the electrical power is gradually degrading. Now there is still one satellite (aka FM6) intermittently produces a few meteorological radio occultation (RO) data.

FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 satellites were launched on June 25, 2019 pursuant to an AIT/TECRO Instrument, and have officially started to release RO observation data to the public from March 7, 2020. Complete observation data and products of the previous day for the global users were published daily on the website of the Taiwan Analysis Center for COSMIC (TACC) of the Central Weather Bureau (CWB). FORMOSAT-7 has successfully continued to perform the follow-on tasks of FORMOSAT-3, providing richer and more accurate data to global meteorological organizations and scientific research communities for extreme climate, abnormal climate, cyclogenesis, typhoon trajectory, and heavy rainfall prediction.

A final decision was jointly made by the NSPO and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that FORMOSAT-3's mission will be completed on May 1, 2020. The US side will cease providing FORMOSAT-3 with support, including data receiving and transmission services, and formally terminated the FORMOSAT-3 ground station support service contract.

Outstanding Contributions of FORMOSAT-3

FORMOSAT-3, the first meteorological satellite constellation in the world, consists of six micro satellites. Its mission is to retrieve the RO profile information of the atmosphere, including temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, and ionospheric electron density. The six satellites have been operating in space for fourteen years - a total of 5,129 days. The precious atmospheric data, that FORMOSAT-3 satellites have collected, are open to the world for free. As of April 20, 2020, there are 4,551 registered community users from ninety-two countries have made use of the data.

FORMOSAT-3 is recognized as "the most accurate and stable thermometer in space" by the global metrology community. In 2012, the European Medium-Term Forecast Center (ECMWF) analyzed its RO data and reported that it was to be ranked as the fifth best among all meteorological observing systems, due in part to its contributions to reducing forecast errors by 10%, despite its small volume of data, which only accounted for 2~3% of all the data used in the weather forecast. When Hurricane Sandy struck just before the 2012 US presidential election, the accurate hurricane trajectory prediction of FORMOSAT-3 assisted the US federal government in making emergency evacuation decisions.

The global demand for real-time RO data is increasing, while the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has openly affirmed the positive impact of RO data. Only a small amount of observation data collected by meteorological satellites receive such widespread appreciation while being recognized by countries around the world. FORMOSAT-3 set a brilliant record in its heyday and was mentioned in numerous papers featured in leading academic journals such as Nature, Science, as well as publications focused on atmospheric science and engineering. Taiwan becomes one of the few weather data exporters in the world due to outstanding contributions of FORMOSAT-3. It enables Taiwan to exchange meteorological observation data with other countries while enhancing Taiwan's international role and status in radio occultation numerical meteorological observation.

NSPO appreciates all the recognition and support received from FORMOSAT-3's domestic and foreign users' communities as well as all sectors of industry, central authorities, and academia. NSPO would like to express its heartfelt gratitude to this satellite constellation provided to Taiwan and the world for fourteen years. NSPO will continue its efforts through the mission of FORMOSAT-7, the follow-on mission of FORMOSAT-3, to continue to provide richer and more accurate meteorological data and make significant contributions to the world.

AIT: American Institute in Taiwan
TECRO: Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office

FORMOSAT-3 Radio Occultation Technique Schematic Diagram
(Credit: Image composition and creation by UCAR COSMIC Program. Earth image by the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE. FORMOSAT-3/COSMIC satellite image courtesy of Orbital Sciences Corporation)