Singapore strives to establish itself as a big player in space-related businesses
No Singaporean has gone into space and the government has no desire to spend billions to change that, but the city-state is seeking to further develop as a space industry center in the Asia-Pacific region.
Astrium Satellite Services, Arianespace, DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, Intelsat and Iridium are just some of the global players that have Singapore offices, mostly their Asia-Pacific headquarters.
Like many other countries, Singapore can offer tax breaks, but there is more to its strategy when it comes to attracting investment from the space industry. One central pillar is the Singapore Space & Technology Association (SSTA), founded in 2006 by Jonathan Hung, who was then with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) covering the aerospace sector.
“At the time there was no space portfolio within EDB. We did not look at space. We were very entrenched in maintenance, repair and overhaul as well as business aviation, which was coming up at that time,” says Hung, who has since left EDB but remains SSTA president.
SSTA organized its first industry conference in 2008. “We did it to see what interest there was in space in Asia-Pacific,” says Hung. “The response was very high. We didn't realize prior to that that there was such a big ecosystem in Singapore” of space-related businesses. They later discovered, however, that EDB's media and information communications portfolio team had met with some of the satellite services companies, he adds. Rather than let the space industry fall between the two portfolios, EDB established a dedicated team for this sector in 2009. Today, there are three people on this team.
The SSTA has grown, too. Initially, it was manned by volunteers but in 2009 added its first paid employee and today has six. The association's board includes senior representatives from the EDB, Defense Sciences Organization, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, National University of Singapore and government-linked company Singapore Technologies (ST) Electronics.
The association organizes the annual Global Space & Technology Convention, to be held here Feb. 9-10, 2012, and it is jointly organizing the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum taking place here Dec. 6-9 with the(JAXA).
SSTA also runs the Singapore Space Academy, where students learn about rocket technology, satellites and astronaut skills. SSTA runs the courses locally with help from formerengineers employed by TriVector, based in Huntsville, Ala. And there is SSTA's Space Challenge, an annual competition for which students develop detailed proposals for new satellites and other space systems using resources provided by companies in the space industry, such as Systemes' design and modeling software.
Hung says the purpose behind the Space Academy is to ensure talented students are drawn into the science and engineering industries rather than finance or other sectors. “There needs to be a healthy pipeline of people going into” these fields, he says. Around the world, engineering jobs are less appealing to young people than work in some other industries, he notes. To attract young talent, the space industry needs to highlight the great career opportunities there are in this fast-growing sector, Hung says.
The rapid growth of the space industry and space technology's facilitation of high-value services are reasons why the government considers this segment to be of such strategic importance to Singapore's economic development, says Hung.
The city-state launched its first locally developed Earth-observation (EO) satellite April 20. Most small nations buy a satellite, but Singapore's leaders want it to have the strategic capability to build its own. The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) was tasked with designing and building X-SAT. Now that it is in space, the government has transferred NTU's 30-40 space engineers to ST Electronics Satellite Systems (Stess), a new government-linked company tasked with commercializing Singapore's expertise in EO satellites.
“The establishment of Stess marks a major milestone in development of an indigenous high-tech satellite industry,” says ST Engineering. “This joint venture will develop satellite technologies in Singapore and take these into the global market.”
Stess is keen to partner with international space companies on research and development projects, says Hung. One area where Singapore hopes to gain a competitive advantage is as a regional test center for satellites, he adds.
Arianespace chairman and CEO, Jean-Yves Le Gall, says Singapore could leverage the national telephone company, SingTel, to expand its role in communication satellite development. SingTel is a big buyer and operator of communications satellites, says Le Gall, adding that it also owns Australian satellite operator Optus.
The government is unlikely to do this, preferring to let SingTel maintain its commercial independence, says Hung. He also says the government probably will not pay for a Singaporean to go into space. “We only do something if it is for practical reasons,” he says.