The Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) Science & Technology Development and Industry (STDI) Discipline Group organised a webinar titled “The Space Industry: Are the Stars Within Reach?” on 13 January 2021 via Zoom. This webinar was a platform of discussion among the experts, key stakeholders and publics on the development of space industry in Malaysia.
Utilising space contributes positively to many important areas such as climate and weather monitoring, efficiency in transportation and agriculture, security, and humanitarian assistance. The global space industry is currently experiencing significant growth as space-related technologies are rapidly adopted by other industries to enhance their output and the revenue generated by the global space industry is forecasted to reach over than USD 1 trillion by 2040.
In Malaysia, space technologies have contributed to many important areas such as communication network, internet and broadcasting, map and navigation, weather monitoring and forecasting, and even for the security of the country. Therefore, it is vital for the space industry in Malaysia to be further strengthened for it to support our country’s socio-economic development and boost competitiveness.
Space exploration has given birth to space technology and applications that cover various aspects of today’s society. However, many Malaysians are still unaware of the contributions and benefits derived from space technology. Malaysia is a developing economy that does not currently have the capability nor the domestic market size to support a high-tech space industry. The needs for national space capabilities at this time can be met through smart partnerships with international parties. However, for the long term, Malaysia needs to have planning for master strategic and appropriate space.
The speakers featured in this webinar are:
- Dr Nafizah Goriman Khan from Nottingham University
- Mr Zainuddin Abdul from MEASAT
- Professor Mazlan Hashim FASc from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
- Professor Emerita Mazlan Othman FASc from ASM
- Dr Tunku Intan Mainura from UiTM
Small is Beautiful – Dr Nafizah Goriman Khan, Nottingham University
Dr Nafizah prefaced her presentation with an overview of the current number of satellites that are actively orbiting Earth.
This preface was followed by a look into the current trends in satellite communication, including LEO/MEO and GEO constellations, new marketing dynamics, hybrid networks as well as interference mitigation, all of which led to new regulatory approvals from nations from where countries want to do business; LEO broadband as well as higher throughput.
Then, Dr Nafizah explained on current trends in earth observation, including new sensor platforms, marketing dynamics, big data/data analytics and the democratisation of EO data, leading to improved decision making for our planet, information products and big data solutions as well as having a higher speed and response rate compared to the past.
Following this, Dr Nafizah explained some key differences between traditional and new space approaches to planning, designing, and developing a mission. This includes differences such as satellite size (formerly 1000kg down to less than 200kg now), moving from bespoke manufacturing to modular designs, and reducing testing process times of yesteryear with built-in automated quality testing in the assembly line.
Concluding the presentation, Dr Nafizah provided an insight into themes of new space, encompassing three aspects: culture, finance, and technology. New space will see more entrepreneurial risk-taking, commercially-driven risk taking and introduce youthful, different and radical ideas and viewpoints.
Also, new space will see financial funding coming from various sources, such as tech investments, crowd-sourced fundings, space angel investors, venture capitals aside from government subsidies.
On the technological aspect, advances will allow more commercial off-the-shelf components to increase production efficiency, allowing satellites to be released early and often, alongside utilisation of apps, non-space systems and scientific breakthroughs to further push the boundaries of new space.
Satellites: Connecting the World – Mr Zainudin Abdul, MEASAT
Mr Zainuddin brought viewers on an introductory journey to satellites, encompassing a brief history of the satellite with the Soviet Sputnik satellites, which was the first to orbit Earth, launched back in 4 October 1957. After 92 days in orbit, Sputnik succumbed to the Earth’s gravitational pull and burned up in the atmosphere.
Next, Mr Zainuddin enlightened viewers on the evolution of satellite communications. While Score was the first communication satellite used for voice communication in 1958, Intelsat 1 was the first commercial geosynchronous communication satellite, launched in 1965. Other early communication sateliites include Courier, Telstar 1 and Relay 1. According to Mr Zainuddin, Telstar 1 was the first to transmit Transatlantic TV in 1962. Communication satellites such as these are responsible for high-speed broadband, enabling the digital transmission of cinema for our entertainment, enabling connectivity to remote areas of the world, and more recently, empowering telemedicine.
Presently, 59% of the world’s population have internet access. This would not have been possible without satellite communication as terrestrial communication alone would not be able to have the reach its satellite counterpart has. Satellite communication enables remote areas to have internet access with relatively minimal cost, requires little to no huge infrastructure, and is proven to be faster to deploy.
Satellites exhibit intrinsic advantages that are not present in other communication technologies. According to Mr Zainuddin, this includes a wide coverage area to enable cross-country, region or even continent coverage. Satellites also provide complete and immediate coverage upon launch. Its flexibility allows base stations to be deployed anywhere within footprint. Also, satellites are relatively cost-effective irrespective of distance. In addition, compared to terrestrial networks, satellites have less points of failure. Its above mentioned flexibility also allows rapid rollout of network.
Next, Mr Zainuddin introduced the types of GEO satellites in Malaysia, including our own MEASAT. MEASAT was founded in 1992 with its maiden launch made in 1996. Since then, seven satellites have been launched and operated that reaches over 150 countries representing 5.8 people globally.
To conclude his presentation, Mr Zainuddin presented ConnectMeNow, a service that makes modern connectivity accessible and affordable at areas without 3G/4G mobile coverage or fibre coverage. Currently, there are about 120,000 broadband connections nationwide and that number is growing. ConnectMeNow has the power to create a digital inclusive society.
Eye in the Sky – Professor Dr Mazlan Hashim FASc, UTM
Professor Mazlan started off his presentation with an overview of the types of sensors of major remote sensing technologies and the typical altitudes at which these sensors operate. This was followed by a look into the characteristics of remote sensing data:
- Remote sensing data can be passive, meaning it can record reflectance (visible light to infrared) or emittance (thermal infrared), among others; it can also be active, where the target is illuminated then the resulting backscatter is recorded (such as in the case of RADAR or LIDAR)
- Remote sensing data ranges from low (>30m), medium (5 to 30m) to fine (>5 m) in spatial resolution, referring to how small details can be observed.
- The spectral resolution can also vary for remote sensing data, from being multispectral (3 to 10 bands) to hyperspectral (100-200 bands)
- The temporal resolution (how often the same point can be revisited) ranges from four times a day up to 18 times a day.
- The radiometric dynamic range of remote sensing data can range from 8-bit to 32-bit.
Currently, remote sensing data has huge operational applications to meet the needs of scientific studies and other emerging needs. Remote sensing is deemed “disruptive” in the sense that it is a cost-effective method/indicator for a specific measure of point, area, or phenomena over time.
Professor Mazlan’s presentation also elaborated on what the remote sensing industry looks like locally. Currently, it primarily carries out image and processing software marketing by local representatives of commercial fine resolution RS images and processing software/systems; there are also some extent of data processing and acquisition using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and terrestrial systems. Geospatial data services is also available in Malaysia, embedded in other industries such as surveying, planning, engineering, and information technology (IT). These industries utilise RS data acquisition and processing according to their unique requirements.
Currently, a passive system able to produce high-resolution data with good revisit time is required for commercial and civil applications. Also, high resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) with good revisit time are also sought after in civil applications such as monitoring land and coastal disasters. Creating new constellations of satellites required for these passive and active systems would create opportunities for infrastructure of data acquisition, processing, data product generation and dissemination.
The Space Bill and other regulated policies are believed to be helpful to create entrepreneurs and start-up companies that would assist existing industries through handholding opportunities and providing incentives.
A Space-based Economy – Professor Emerita Mazlan Othman FASc, ASM
Professor Emerita Mazlan’s delightful presentation brought viewers on a trip filled with economic applications of space that are unfamiliar, the unusual, and the outrageous.
Prof Emerita Mazlan sought to get viewers familiarised with the unfamiliar as a start. She talked about space tourism: human space travel for recreational purposes. There are several different types of space tourism, including orbital, suborbital and lunar space tourism. Several companies have set their eyes on the future of tourism, such as Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Orion Span, and Boeing.
Next, she talked about high altitude platforms, or HAPS. HAPS stands for high-altitude platform station. It refers to a high-altitude quasi-satellite in the form of an unmanned aircraft that a carries a mobile phone base station some 20 km above ground. Referring to the news she featured, Japanese telecommunications conglomerate SoftBank is working toward the commercialization of “airborne base stations” with the possibility of conducting test flights in Japan as early as in 2021.
Professor Emerita Mazlan then mentioned Spire Global, a company founded in 2012 on the principle that data can change the world. The company believes that predictive analytics show patterns that can change the future. The data they collect are applied to various industries, such as the maritime, aviation, agriculture as well as land management.
Next, Prof Emerita talked about space applications that are unusual: Moon Express, a company that focuses on offering commercial lunar transportation and exploration; Rocket Lab, a company that aims to provide reliable and frequent access for companies, students and scientists to get their ideas into space with its launch vehicles such as Electron Rocket. Prof Emerita Mazlan also mentioned a recent experiment of growing new organs on International Space Station (ISS).
Following the ununsual, Prof Emerita continued the journey into the outrageous: asteroid mining as a source of economic income, as well as China’s desire to establish a “space economic zone”. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic that hit the word seems to have thrown a wrench into the works, causing us to step back and reassess our priorities for the moment and channelling resources to more pressing matters at hand. Asteroid mining, for example, took a back seat, together with some space startups.
Space Governance – Dr Tunku Intan Mainura, UiTM
Dr Tunku Intan Mainura from UiTM was in attendance to provide an insight into the Malaysian Space Board Bill 2020. The Malaysian Space Board Bill 2020 aims at setting up a Space Board to regulate the space industry in Malaysia, and advise the government on matters pertaining to the space industry as well as to issue guidelines and instructions related to the bill. The Malaysian Space Board Bill 2020 was tabled for first reading by the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), YB Khairy Jamaluddin at the Dewan Rakyat.
The Malaysian Space Board Bill 2020 is crucial for Malaysia right now because of the need for a set of regulations to ensure that space activities are equipped with proper legal procedures and rules. Also, a space policy would allow Malaysia better coordination of its space activities as well as to harness their potential in improving the country’s economy and security as well as its global standing.
The Malaysian Space Board Bill 2020 includes:
- Prohibition of activities such as:
- Placing, installing, testing, launching or operating any weapons of mass destruction.
- Establishing a military base, installation and fortification, carrying out the testing of any type of weapons and conduct any military manoeuvres.
- Activities that will affect the security and safety of any other activity lawfully.
- Activities which may cause harmful contamination to space or adverse changes to the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extra-terrestrial matter.
- License, Permits and Certificates:
- Requiring a license for:
- Building or manufacturing of any space object.
- Owning or operating any facility for the integration or testing of any space object.
- Owning or operating any launch facility.
- Requiring a launch permit for:
- Any launch service provider who intends to launch a space object into space from any launch facility in Malaysia.
- Requiring a launch certificate for:
- Owner of a space object and intends to launch the space object into space from any launch facility in or outside Malaysia.
- Requiring a license for:
- Registration and notification of space objects when:
- Space object has been launched.
- Space object has ceased to be in operation.
- The space object is physically destroyed.
- Any change in the particulars given on the space object.
- Liability and 5. Indemnity
- Three situations where players of the space related activities will be absolutely liable:
- A launch service provider – damage resulting from the launch of a space object from a launch facility inside Malaysia
- Owner of space object – damage resulting from the launch of space objects from a launch facility outside Malaysia
- Owner of a space object – damage resulting from the operation of space object which has been launched into the earth orbit or beyond
- Three situations where players of the space related activities will be absolutely liable:
Under the above mentioned situations, they are obligated to indemnify the Government of Malaysia against any claims and proceedings brought against the Government in respect of any damage resulting from their activities.
Benefits of the Malaysian Space Board Bill 2020 are:
- To Malaysia:
- Promotes space activities in accordance with the national interests and space policy of Malaysia.
- Dualism approach.
- Fulfils an international obligation.
- To the space industries:
- Promotes collaboration, cooperation and healthy competition
- Catalyses, inspires and motivates industries as well as local talent to pursue excellence in space-related ventures.