The global Spacetech industry, fuelled by innovators such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, is once again capturing our imaginations and attracting considerable investment. 2019 saw Spacetech investment reach an all-time high worldwide; and according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BoAML) and Morgan Stanley, Spacetech funding is expected to rise to $2.7 trillion USD over the next thirty years. Spacetech entrepreneurs are clambering to get in on the action, and although Southeast Asia is not a region known for space innovation, Singapore is fast becoming a hub.

Spacetech in Southeast Asia

Spacetech in Southeast Asia is a nascent industry with few government-led space research programmes, unlike in China, Japan and India. However, as Spacetech becomes more democratised, smaller startups are now able to get a foot in the door of an industry which has previously been dominated by national space agencies.

view of Earth and satellite

The applications of Spacetech encompass everyday activities, such as GPS and communications, but it is also proving useful in aiding disaster management, agriculture and tourism, as well as border disputes and security. In the 1960s and 70s, driven by these socioeconomic reasons, many countries in Southeast Asia began their initial Spacetech exploration. Recently there has been a rise in investment in the industry, and it is estimated to increase to around $558 billion USD by 2026, led by the private sector’s move towards more commercial applications. Simon Gwozdz, CEO of Equatorial Space Industries, stated that “The focus on profitability adds a competitive edge to the space sector in the region.”

Spotlight on Singapore spacetech

Fuelled by commercial interests,Singapore’s launch into Spacetech has been more recent than other Southeast Asian nations’. The island city-state’s significant technological resources and financial viability have encouraged hefty investment from the get-go, as opposed to solely state-funded programmes. The Office for Space and Technology Industry (OSTIn) was created in 2013 to bring together global businesses, local startups, universities and government agencies to encourage growth in the sector. And that was just the beginning. 

The Singapore Space and Technology Association (SSTA) is a neutral platform which aims to “facilitate information and communication” between stakeholders in Singaporean Spacetech. The Astropreneurs Hub, in a similar vein, supports technological development, training and mentoring. The newest investment initiative, launched in February 2020 at the Global Space and Technology Convention (GSTC) in Singapore, is Project Cyclotron. The project is a partnership between Singapore Space and Technology Limited (SSTL) and Cap Vista, the strategic investment arm of Defense Science and Technology Agency (DSTA). The focus of Cyclotron is to propel spacetech startups to commercially viable entities by providing them with the “insights, skillsets and resources” they need. These associations, in addition to advances in technology, are lowering barriers to startups who can now afford to participate. 

Another item on the agenda at GSTC 2020 was blockchain. Singapore-based Spacechain presented a workshop at the conference entitled ‘Blockchain: The Next Big Tech Disruptor in Space’. Founded in 2017, this community-based space platform has big plans. It aims to have a global community collaborating in space supported by the world’s first open-source blockchain-based satellite network, leading to decentralised applications in space. “Immutable and secure” is the promise that comes with all blockchain technology, and Spacechain is no exception. In its workshop, Spacechain explored its numerous applications with industry professionals, including Supply Chain and Logistics, Cybersecurity, AI, Data, and Payments and Banking.

Two other Singaporean Spacetech startups, NuSpace and Aliena, announced their partnership with California-based Momentus this month. Working with Momentus NuSpace and Aliena aim to launch their first satellite. Mikhail Kokorich, CEO of Momentus, said: “We trust this is a foundational step toward future partnerships with local space companies who, like Momentus, are pushing the limits of technology and exploring uncharted territories.” Further proof that Singapore has the talent and drive to grow a burgeoning spacetech industry, despite being a tiny nation.

Spacetech beyond Singapore

In the past few years, Singapore has emerged as one of the hubs for spacetech in Southeast Asia, supported by investment growth. The Philippines, attempting to support startups into maturity, has initiated startup enablers such as QBO and Launchgarage according to Rogel Mari Sese, of space consultancy Regulus Spacetech. He cited growth in the private sector as a factor in aiding spacetech to thrive in the region. Spacetech startups in Thailand and Indonesia remain low, with a focus on drone production for aerial photography. 

Southeast Asian countries began to invest in spacetech decades ago, and in 2012 Vietnam spent $93 million USD, the highest of the ASEAN countries, while Laos, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia followed closely. The spending mainly focused on indigenous space programmes, with Vietnam’s main concerns being sustainable development, military and foreign affairs. However, it is the emergence of a private sector in the field, as well as Singapore’s investment in startup enablers, which has put Southeast Asia in the spotlight.

The potential for spacetech in Southeast Asia is exponential, particularly with startups such as Spacechain combining the technology with blockchain. If other Southeast Asian countries can follow suit, enabling the commercialisation of space technologies and small-scale startups to flourish, there could be huge payoffs.