Singapore’s Spacetech Industry Growing Rapidly As It Benefits From Government Support
Singapore’s spacetech sector was non-existent in before 2013. However, in the last six years, the industry has gained momentum, and it is growing fast. The industry has made steady progress in recent times since Singapore started Office for Space and Technology Industry (OSTIn) in 2013. Singapore is quickly turning into a spacetech hub because of its hospitable business environment. Equally supportive and straightforward government regulations have been vital in the transformation of the sector.
Currently, Singapore’s spacetech boasts around 30 companies in the field that are leveraging opportunities in the segment. Various companies are striving to capitalize on the opportunities. According to the country’s Economic Development Board (EDB), the industry is expanding fast. EDB indicates that out of the 30 spacetech firms, ten startups established in the last five years.
Singapore’s spacetech industry took a different approach
Lim Tse Yong, the EDB director of Capital Goods, stated that the formation of OSTIn contributed greatly to the growth of Singapore’s spacetech. The government of Singapore took a different approach to spacetech. The country didn’t pump cash into developing a state-owned space body like most countries but instead chose to support the private sector. OSTIn plays the role of coordinating and bringing together researchers, local startups, international organizations, and government agencies. The aim of bringing them together is to drive spacetech innovation in the private sector.
According to Lim Tse, technological advancements have reduced entry barriers for startups in the spacetech industry. He adds that most startups engage in spacetech innovations such as space-based laser communications and satellite thruster systems.
Equally access to knowledge, tech, and tools to build startups has increasingly become democratized, according to Vishal Harnal. Harnal says that this has helped founders of spacetech startups to establish firms without the need for huge sums of capital. Harnal is a general partner at 500 Startups that have investments in spacetech startups Transcelesetial Technologies and Aliena.
Technological evolution has made space development accessible and cheaper. Two decades ago, it could have cost between $200 to $300 million to develop and launch a satellite. Interestingly that has changed now, and even institutions can launch a miniature satellite at a fraction of that cost.
Singapore is appealing to foreign spacetech companies that have already set shop in the country. Some of the foreign companies include US-based satellite imaging company Planet and Japanese Company Astroscale. Former NASA scientist, Dr. Bidushi Bhattacharya, and owner of Bhattacharya Space Enterprises (BSE), see a lot of potential in the industry. Bhattacharya is calling for Elon Musk to bring his spacetech company SpaceX to Singapore. According to Bhattacharya, there is a lot of untapped spacetech talent in the region that SpaceX can benefit from.
Events in the spacetech industry in Singapore
Currently, Bhattacharya’s company offers help to students, and upcoming scientists get their innovations on the International Space Station (ISS) board. Recently a project examined the effect of space radiation on the melanin in genetically modified bacteria. Bhattacharya has been nurturing the budding Singapore spacetech through education programs and meetups. She is currently sourcing for spacetech talent for an incubator run by the company that she hopes will transform the sector.
Research has been heightened in the spacetech sector, and nowadays, the focus is not only space exploration. Private contractors are growingly becoming important in the commercialization of the industry. In Singapore, the government realized that the private sector could drive innovation in the spacetech sector. As a result, it has been encouraging entrepreneurs to focus on technology in space-related fields.
Research enhanced in spacetech industry
Following the encouragement of the private sector to venture into the industry, research that previously applied in various industries is coming to spacetech. For instance, Alien, which is a spin-off from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), began when its founders were experimenting on the application of plasma research into other areas besides clean energy.
The startup is currently developing low-power plasma propulsion systems for satellites. The systems help satellites to perfume advanced turns to change their orbit. Although dabbling in spacetech seems to be a tall order, it has several applications in the real world. It has uses in Global Positioning System (GPS), communication, and weather forecasting, among others.
Simon Gwozdz, the founder of Equatorial Space Industries (ESI), indicates that technology has made it easier for startups in the industry. Gwozdz said that the size and number of mass satellites and the affordability of components increased innovation in Singapore’s spacetech sector. Currently, ESI is planning to launch its first guided test flight. The founder of the aerospace and rocket launch firm indicated that they plan to conduct the suborbital mission in the second half of 2020.
Outlook and prospects of Singapore’s spacetech sector
The global spacetech industry is full of prospects, and last year, investments in the industry hit $5 billion. Investment in the sector will continue growing, and in the next three decades, it could rise to $2.7 trillion, according to Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. There is potential in the industry, but the spacetech companies will take time to turn profits.
However, 500 Startups’ Harnal says that for now, they are not concerned about profitability, but investment and profitability will come in the future. Most of the firms are creating revenue streams through terrestrial applications of their products. For instance, SpeQtral is developing a satellite communication system that uses photons to send signals that cannot be intercepted.
Singapore’s spacetech sector is taking the lead in the ASEAN region. Currently, the ten member countries in the region do not have satellite launch capabilities even though there is an increasing need for satellites. Satellites are important in communication and geo-monitoring in the region, especially considering the region is prone to natural disasters. As of last year, Singapore had nine satellites in space, and all of them launched abroad.
An ASEAN space launch could galvanize Singapore’s spacetech industry. Gwozdz says that this is a long-term opportunity that will make the country a future launch site. The country has strong tech capabilities, and with strong research and investment, Singapore could emerge as a leader in the spacetech sector in the region.