Following the success of the previous webinar, the ASM STDI Discipline Group has organised another webinar on 12 April 2021. The webinar was to discuss the evolution of the space industry or as it is known, New Space.
New Space, broadly defined as a field where traditional and non-traditional space players engage to enable the development of space flight, space applications and space activities at a faster and cheaper rate. Despite the many successful and innovative initiatives from this new approach, there are many technological, legal, regulatory and financial issues which persist.
Datuk Dr. Ahmad Tasir Lope Pihie FASc, Fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia kicked off the webinar with welcoming remarks. He highlighted that the webinar was organised to commemorate the International Day of Human Space Flight; where 60 years ago, on that day, a Soviet Cosmonaut named Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to travel into space.
He also shared that governments traditionally played the key role in space exploration. However, the commercialisation of the space sector has seen the emergence of private industries as a significant player.
Delivering his keynote address, Professor Walter Peeters, President of International Space University (France) echoed the same view. In the beginning, the space industry was purely government-linked. Following the landing of Apollo 11 on July 15, 1959, the government became less interested; as time passed, the space industry became commercialised. This new environment has increased accessibility by lowering the barrier of entry and emergence of new players funded by private companies; the new companies have responded to market’s demands.
He added that the commercialisation of the space sector accounts for 77% of the global economy for the satellite industry worth US$360 billion. Through New Space, both traditional and non-traditional players partake in furthering advancements within the industry, accelerating innovation at a reduced cost.
This has helped the establishment of various new start-ups such as satellites, in-space biosphere, planetary markets, in-space logistics, media and education, and even entertainment.
Philippe Campenon of PlanetLabs (USA) talks about the company’s goal of launching a constellation of simple and cost-effective nanosatellites. From their inception in 2010, PlanetLabs has come a long way in six years. Small and compact, about the size of a shoebox and weighing around 5kg, the satellites would be capable of acquiring and delivering high-resolution satellite imagery; in addition to that, it would be able to store 15TB of data per day. PlanetLabs enables almost immediate extraction of satellite imagery, compared to traditional satellites.
Joerg Kreisel of Joerg Kreisel International Consultant (Germany) shared about OSAM or On Orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacture which enables satellites to be serviced and upgraded while in orbit. OSAM when compared to previous methods such as OOS or Orbit on Servicing allows for greater efficiency and flexibility.
Dr. Lena Okajima, CEO of ALE Co. Ltd. leads the charge in an exciting segment of the market – entertainment. Project Sky Canvas produces man-made shooting stars, achieved through launching satellites with rockets containing meteors and releasing it; the meteor emits light at the altitude of 60-80km, and is bright enough to be seen as far as 200km. The venture has created a major leap in entertainment at an unprecedented scale, allowing people in various parts of the world to enjoy a celestial experience. Okajima views these experiences as important in sparking curiosity which is needed to explore scientific development and steer science towards the sustainable development of humankind. Additionally, scientific knowledge obtained from space exploration and understanding of the universe must be allowed to expand humankind’s survival but not at the expense of the global environment.
Emeritus Professor Dato’ Seri Dr. Mazlan Othman FASc, chair of the ASM STDI Discipline group said that New Space could be the way forward for Malaysia. She highlighted the need for basic infrastructure to be in place for businesses to thrive. In line with this, Dato’ Kamarul Redzuan, Uzma Berhad (Malaysia) shared on the investment potential of New Space, perceived to be a profitable market in the future; UZMA initially invested in oil and gas but have come to diversify with the emergence of new industries. The space sector is one of the fastest growing industries with massive potential to address the world’s challenges. Although relatively new and still at an early stage in the industry life cycle, the sector sees an increased number of start-ups.
Echoing Dr. Mazlan’s point, Dato’ Kamarul elucidates the need for the government to play a key role in the development of Malaysia’s space sector by facilitating and enabling local companies to spearhead the space programme with technology partners; the sector’s sustainability requires long-term planning and discipline in execution.
Peter Walters suggests the creation of a government fund to assist start-ups in their R&D. Campenon echoes this, highlighting that R&D is costly and time-consuming, and that the government has an important role in supporting start-ups in the early stages. The government also must be the one to create the ecosystem for the space industry to develop.