Saturday, 23 February 2013

Singapore's leap into the space industry

New office to research, develop sector, grow talent pool and related business
By Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 22 Feb 2013

SINGAPORE announced a new push into another potentially lucrative economic sector yesterday - this time setting its sights as far as outer space.

The Government will set up a new office to research and develop the futuristic space industry, particularly the manufacture and launch of satellites.

Called the Office for Space Technology and Industry (OSTIn), it will also work with universities to develop the talent pool for the industry, help satellite companies grow their business here and collaborate with other countries' space agencies.

Two Singapore companies also announced ambitious new plans for Singapore's fledgling space programme.

ST Electronics, an arm of mainboard listed ST Engineering, said it has started the design and development of the first made- in-Singapore commercial satellite.

Images from the satellite, to be launched in 2015, could be used for disaster and environmental monitoring, agriculture, resource exploration and maritime observation and security.

Meanwhile, local technology firm IN.Genius outlined plans to send the first Singaporean into space on National Day 2015.

The formation of the space office, which will come under the control of the Economic Development Board, was announced by Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran at the annual Global Space Technology Convention at the Sheraton Towers hotel.

"Singapore (has) good reasons to be excited by the promising potential the space industry has for our economy," he said.

Space could ignite interest in science and engineering among the young and provide knowledge-intensive jobs that the country wants, said Mr Iswaran.

And the industry's growth will spill over to other economic sectors here, such as transport and precision engineering, he added.

The global space economy was worth US$290 billion in 2011. Its growth has been driven by the satellite industry, which has been expanding at 11 per cent annually.

Satellites are increasingly in demand, especially in affluent Asia, because of the rapid growth of services such as imaging and communications for cellphones.

"It's a logical extension from a number of industries already existing in Singapore," said Barclays Capital economist Leong Wai Ho.

Mr Gian Yi-Hsen, the director of OSTIn, said Singapore's nascent satellite industry will build on Singapore's existing capabilities in electronics, precision engineering and the aerospace sector.

For a start, it will focus on manufacturing small satellites weighing less than a tonne that have commercial applications, plus other activities that include receiving, processing and analysing satellite data.

Singapore's universities currently train about 80 students a year in satellite-related work.

Nanyang Technological University, which has already launched one 100kg research satellite, said yesterday that it will send up a second in 2016. This will also scan equatorial regions and send data about temperature, humidity and pressure back to researchers.

Meanwhile, the National University of Singapore plans to develop a 50kg microsatellite - its first - which will carry low-cost, lightweight hyperspectral imaging technology developed by its electrical and computer engineering department.

Wanted: S'porean to fly 20km above Earth
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 22 Feb 2013

APPLICATIONS to become Singapore's first citizen to pilot a vessel into space are now being accepted.

The Science Centre Board, the Singapore Space and Technology Association (SSTA) and local technology firm IN.Genius signed a deal yesterday to launch a Singaporean from a pad on the island on National Day, Aug 9, 2015.

The adventurer - who must be Singapore-born and hold a pilot's licence - will fly more than 20km above Earth into its stratosphere, which is the second layer of the atmosphere. Outer space is usually considered more than 100km above sea level.

Most commercial planes cruise at about 10km to 12km above Earth, about half the height of the planned flight.

The partners declined to give more details about the space vessel and training, which they said will be revealed later.

Mr Martin Robillard, 41, general manager of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) subsidiary Astrium's Singapore branch, said that training astronauts usually takes years.

"Given the deadline and targeted height, it could be several options such as a fighter jet or the technology used in the recent Red Bull challenge," he said.

In that challenge, which took place last October, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner flew 39km above Earth in a helium balloon before free-falling in a pressure suit.

IN.Genius director Lim Seng was previously head of the Ministry of Defence's Defence Technology Office in Europe. He was also executive adviser to the chief technical officer of the global EADS.

He set up IN.Genius in 2009 and left the EADS last April. Mr Lim said his company is in talks with government agencies to help plan the flight.

"We are pioneering to open up a whole new space business sector and the minds of our youth," he said.

A Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) spokesman said: "IN.Genius has approached the CAAS on this matter and discussions are at an exploratory stage."

Science Centre Singapore chief executive Lim Tit Meng said the three partners will put together a proposal with budgets for the space flight and a space science education programme.

This will be submitted along with the Science Centre Board's input to the Ministry of Education (MOE), which oversees the centre.

Once the MOE has given its approval, the three partners will look for sponsors and investors, said Science Centre's Associate Professor Lim.

All three partners said it is too early to estimate the space flight's cost.

SSTA president Jonathan Hung hopes the mission will attract students to space science and create new high-tech jobs.

Astrium's Mr Robillard added that the project is likely to reflect well on Singapore. "It's a good first step towards entering space," he said.

Suitable applicants must send their curriculum vitae by May 30 to

Existing businesses could benefit from space venture
By Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 22 Feb 2013

SINGAPORE'S venture into space is not a long shot, but a move existing businesses can take advantage of, said firms and economists about news that the Republic aims to enter the satellite industry.

Yesterday, Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran announced the setting up of an Economic Development Board programme office to oversee the push, while Singapore-listed firm ST Electronics announced plans to build a small, commercial remote-sensing satellite.

Mr Iswaran said the industry's growth would spill over to local businesses. For instance, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) like Loop Electronics and Wizlogix have already tapped their radio frequency and printed circuit board design expertise to build satellite components for other companies.

Mr Lim Guan Choon, managing director of radio frequency technology firm Loop Electronics, said the growth of the industry could benefit his firm and other SMEs in terms of "more business opportunities and contacts, especially from overseas satellite service providers and companies, and more collaborations with local institutions like A*Star, National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in space-grade components and subsystems development".

But space SMEs might need government help to build up their facilities and capabilities, he said, as the heavy upfront investment required is a barrier to entry.

While Singapore universities do not have dedicated satellite-engineering degrees, NTU and NUS have satellite-engineering programmes that train about 80 students a year between them.

In NTU's undergraduate satellite programme, students "have the chance to build satellites that are slated for actual launch", said NTU president Bertil Andersson.

Barclays Capital economist Leong Wai Ho cautioned: "We've got to quantify at the end of the day whether it will add value and can replace some of the (sunset) industries."

If satellite components and manpower are imported and the satellites merely assembled here, he said, little value is added to the economy.

Still, Singapore could help fill the Asean demand for satellite services, as the regional market is still relatively undeveloped, he said.

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