Space tech startups in Southeast Asia have bloomed at an astonishing pace as they race to keep up with the rest of the world’s endeavours to explore the “final frontier”. Investment group Morgan Stanley predicts that the global space industry revenue will grow to $1 trillion USD by 2040. The mainstream discussion of space technology revolves around the Space Force launched by the US military in 2019 and space weaponisation initiatives from Russia and China. The renewed interest in our galaxy is bolstered further by famed entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson and Elon Musk funding space programmes.
Yet, the majority of space technology is focused on more urban and solution-oriented endeavours with commercial investment into space tech trends such as high-speed product delivery, satellite broadband, and commercial human space travel increasing. Singapore does not have a government-sanctioned space programme per se, but it has the state-managed Office for Space and Technology Industry (OSTin). The country is hoping to witness a commercial rocket launch by a local company soon thanks to recent developments.
We look at the spacetech industry in Southeast Asia
Equatorial Space Systems is a Singapore based space technology startup focussing on suborbital rockets and more deliberate ventures into space. Simon Gwozdz “Once we commercialize the suborbital rocket, we’ll be developing a much larger one, which carries satellites into orbit.”
The ASEAN space tech scene
Singapore is poised to be a strong force in aerospace and maritime engineering, according to Morgan Stanley. At present, it has 56 companies working in the space niche. Even though its neighbours, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia have government-managed space programmes, they do not have the robust market sector that Singapore enjoys.
Space tech enthusiasts believe that Singapore will be the cornerstone of the space industry in Asia. Professor Kay Soon Low, the director of Satellite Technology and Research Center (STAR) at the National University of Singapore (NUS), believes that domestic and foreign investment in satellite technologies have grown exponentially in recent years. The piquing interest in the space tech sector will enhance the innovation hotspot status of the island nation with regard to space exploration.
Singapore’s First Satellite
Even though Singapore does not have its own space programme, the country launched an indigenous satellite in 2011, the ‘X-Sat’ which paved the way for the ST Engineering company’s birth. ST Engineering launched the TeLEOS-1 in 2015, giving a boost to Singapore’s credibility in the realm of space tech startups in Southeast Asia.
Satellite Technology and Research Centre (STAR)
Also a part of NUS, STAR is a research-based programme focused on mission designs, component development, and subsystem security. The objective of STAR is to help produce students qualified and trained to work in the spacecraft and technology industry.
Perhaps, by initiating a research institution instead of a government-sanctioned programme, Singapore has significantly strengthened its scope in the market. STAR’s vision is to build an advanced centre to produce distributed satellite systems and provide Singapore’s space industry with support in developing state–of–the–art satellite technology.
Bhattacharya Space Enterprise, a space leaders’ incubator in the city, sees great promise in Singapore’s talent pool for space tech industries. Dr Bidushi Bhattacharya, a rocket scientist and founder of the firm, feels that the STEM fields have a multitude of talented people ready to transition to the space tech arena to bolster the short pipeline of trained engineers in the sector.
The hope of those involved in the sector is that the Singaporean companies will offer niche specialisations in small satellite constellations and would pursue formation flying. With the increase in private funding and the expanding public sector’s involvement in space tech trends, the Asian market is rife with space tech startups in Southeast Asia and technological advancements.
Singapore is located close to the equator and is uniquely suited to launch rockets in several orbits. As a technologically advanced nation with a government highly motivated to develop the country as a tech hub, it has the market and growth based GDP needed for high stakes ventures such as satellite development and deployment. It has also developed its identity carefully by positioning itself as a strong developer of space tech while leaving the launch aspect to the global consumer market. Once locally developed and sourced technology has international acceptance and credibility, the launch, deployment, and other facades of the industry will come to its doorstep as well.
Singapore has perfectly positioned to be the next space tech giant of the region; the world should stay tuned for its rocket launch, planned for 2021.