Space tech may sound like something only countries with unlimited resources can get around, but Southeast Asia is actually a lot closer to the industry than it may seem
According to the data gathered by Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BoAML) and Morgan Stanley, last year space tech investment reached an all-time high worldwide, with funding expected to rise to US$2.7 trillion over the next thirty years.
Singapore has been following suit with its Southeast Asian adaptation of the industry, and Southeast Asian countries can even be traced back to the 1960s with its space exploration. However, according to an article released by Tech Collective SEA, Asia, China, Japan, and India are the leading nations when it comes to government-led space research programmes.
Space tech reveals itself to be more than just about the galaxy far, far away. It is ingrained in the more down-to-earth activities such as GPS and communications. It also has a lot to do with the effective application of disaster management, agriculture, and tourism, as well as border disputes and security.
Singapore has the Office for Space and Technology Industry (OSTIn) since 2013 to bring together global businesses, local startups, universities, and government agencies to encourage growth in the sector. The Singapore Space and Technology Association (SSTA) was formed with the aim to “facilitate information and communication” between stakeholders in Singaporean space tech.
In February 2020, the newest investment initiative was launched at the Global Space and Technology Convention (GSTC) in Singapore, called 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), to allow commercialisation of space tech startups.
Here are the few present space tech companies that are ahead of the race to help the region arrives at the same global level in Singapore.
The startup was founded in 2017 with a community-based space platform approach to have a global collaboration supported by the open-source blockchain-based satellite network. The goal is to decentralise applications in space.
In its workshop, Spacechain explored its numerous applications with industry professionals, including supply chain and logistics, cybersecurity, AI, data, and payments and banking.
The startup has presented a workshop in a conference titled ‘Blockchain: The Next Big Tech Disruptor in Space’.
NuSpace is a Singapore-based nano-satellite company that provides IoT connectivity and data platform services.
The company was founded by Ng Zhen Ning (Co-founder & CEO) and Dr Luo Sha (Co-founder) as a spin-off from the National University of Singapore (NUS). Both co-founders are researchers at the NUS Faculty of Engineering, with Luo Sha bringing his wealth of experience to the table as the principal investigator of Galassia, NUS’ first nano-satellite that was successfully launched in December 2015 for research purposes.
In March 2019, the company announced undisclosed funding from Japanese venture capital firm BEENEXT. The funding was used to back its plans to launch a technology demonstration satellite by the end of this year and complete the deployment of the constellation by the end of 2022.
The nano-satellites that NuSpace plans to launch have the ability to bring IoT connectivity to places that are previously seen as “not economically feasible” such as in the middle of the ocean.
In e27’s coverage, it is detailed that the startup believes that nanosatellites will be an important tool for government agencies and businesses that need connectivity in remote areas at a low cost and shorter lead time for design and building.
“With more than 85 per cent of the world still lacking access to the internet, there exists gaps where global data cannot be obtained cost-effectively. NuSpace can help plug the gaps and provide wider coverage, more parts of the world can be digitised with IoT technology, opening up more commercial opportunities in this knowledge-driven economy,” said Ng Zhen Ning, Co-founder & CEO of NuSpace.
The IoT connectivity itself is useful for tracking of livestock, maritime shipment, and management of agritech devices especially in the equatorial belt regions with its “fast-growing, emerging” economies.
NuSpace has a partnership with California-based Momentus, which was something the startup announced recently.
NuSpace, alongside other space tech company in Singapore, Aliena, has plans to launch its first satellite.
Working with Momentus, NuSpace and Aliena aimed to launch their first satellite. Aliena is a space tech startup that specialises in developing and manufacturing plasma-thruster systems for the small satellite market.
Back in November 2019, the space tech firm raised US$1.1 million from the strategic venture investment arm of Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency, Cap Vista, with participation from 500 Startups, and others, as reported by Tech In Asia.
Founded in 2018, the company aimed to tackle the lack of propulsion systems in the market, something that can shorten the lifespan and limit the mission capabilities of small satellites. The company’s propulsion systems “will allow for a new generation of miniaturised satellites to perform sophisticated manoeuvres, which were previously technically infeasible due to technical constraints.
A year ago, SpeQtral raised US$1.9 million in seed funding led by Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), with participation from Space Angels, Shasta Ventures, Golden Gate Ventures, and SGInnovate.
In an article by Tech In Asia, it’s explained that SpeQtral was formerly known as S15 Space Systems. It looks to build space-based quantum communication systems and has licensed intellectual property from the National University of Singapore, which hosts the CQT, to help it develop compact quantum light sources.
SpeQtral aims to develop a satellite-based communication system that uses light particles (photons) to send messages, making them immune to traditional methods of interception.
In an article by ASEAN Today, COO David Mitlying said: “SpeQtral has received a lot of support from Singapore. We are a spin-out of the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) which was developed with grants from the Singapore government.”
The company has since begun its plan to start a commercially focussed space-to-ground CubeSat quantum communication demonstration mission and further its research and development of quantum communication tech.
Transcelestial Technologies is a Singapore-based space tech startup that utilises a space laser network to potentially replace wireless networks and deliver high-speed internet anywhere on earth, including to the four billion people globally who do not have internet access.
According to an article by The Straits Times, it raised US$2.5 million seed funding round led by Wavemaker Partners and Enterprise SG’s Seeds Capital to develop a technology “in stealth”. Airtree Ventures, 500 Startups, and angel investors including Y-Combinator chief executive Michael Seibel and WI Harper Group venture partner Jonathan Schiff all joined the round.
Transcelestial was founded in 2016 with the goal to develop a constellation of nanosatellites that use lasers to transfer and relay data for ground, satellite, and deep space applications. The startup, founded by Entrepreneurs First-graduates Rohit Jha and Mohammad Danesh, claimed that this could provide a fast, long-distance, point-to-point wireless communication network of up to 100 gigabits per second.
Transcelestial’s first recorded public demonstration of the technology was a joint project with SK Telecom in South Korea and the Telecom Infra Project’s Ecosystem Acceleration Center Initiative. Its wireless fibre optics technology was used to upgrade the backbone internet connectivity of a major public library near Seoul, reportedly improving bandwidth by 20 times its existing speed.
Furthermore, according to Tech Collective SEA, the Philippines is the next country that has taken quite a leap to support space tech startups into maturity in Southeast Asia. Among its efforts is the joint initiative to support the industry with startup enablers such as QBO and Launchgarage.
According to Rogel Mari Sese of space consultancy Regulus Spacetech, growth in the private sector is a factor in aiding space tech to thrive in the region.
As for space tech startups in Thailand and Indonesia, the engagement remains low and “safely played”, with a focus on drone production for aerial photography.
In 2012, Vietnam reportedly spent US$93 million to boost its startup sector, with Vietnam’s main concerns being sustainable development, military and foreign affairs. Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia followed closely after
Today, with Singapore spearheading the space tech innovation in the region, the Singaporean government’s role has been more of an encouraging observer. Through OSTIn, the government coordinates rather than financially supports, bringing together local startups, international businesses, universities, and other government agencies with the singular aim of nurturing innovation in the private sector.
More from the article on ASEAN Today, other non-government entities such as the non-profit platform Singapore Space and Technology Association that bring together stakeholders in the Singapore space industry and the Astropreneur’s Hub that takes a role as an incubator for space tech startups, have showcased its commitment in supporting the sector.
Simon Gwozdz, CEO and founder of Equatorial Space Industries (ESI), highlighted that the space race is over, and exploration is no longer the sole objective of national space programmes. “As a result, government agencies are turning to private contractors to broaden their programmes and explore the commercialisation of space,” Gwozdz said to ASEAN Today.
Equatorial Space Industries with Gwozdz in charge are in the business of developing rockets to launch satellites into orbit, and with an estimated 8,500 satellites to be launched in the next decade.
Southeast Asia still is a region that is vulnerable to natural disasters, and this is something that ASEAN countries can band together to tackle to benefit from satellite communication systems and geo-monitoring satellite systems. Currently, all 11 countries of the region in the region do not have satellite launch capabilities, despite a growing need for satellites.
Singapore alone has nine satellites in space as of 2019, but all of them were launched overseas. But sooner or later, the other countries are closing in on innovation.
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