TECHNOLOGY

Space Tech Rises in Southeast Asia

There may be no electric cars bound for Mars a la Elon Musk here, but space tech entrepreneurs are bullish about the region

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 28 Feb 2018

Space Tech Rises in Southeast Asia

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

While consumer-facing verticals in Southeast Asia, such as e-commerce and ride-hailing, may grab all the headlines, the region is nascent in deep technology. One of the most promising deep tech industries in Southeast Asia is - believe it or not – space tech.

We may not be launching electric cars bound for Mars a la Elon Musk, but some space tech entrepreneurs are bullish about the region.

Rohit Jha, the CEO and co-founder of Transcelestial which develops laser communication technology, believes that while Southeast Asian space tech is still in its infancy, the region is leapfrogging the decades it took western counterparts to reach the same maturity level. He credits this accelerated pace to stakeholders across the ecosystem, including supporting organizations, government agencies, and non-profit bodies (SPRING, EDB OSTIn, SSTA, NTU and NUS, ISRO), deep tech accelerators and incubators (Entrepreneur First, SGInnovate), and other start-ups (Gilmour Space, Astroscale, Spire).

Jha believes space tech can grow even further if certain issues are addressed. “One, we need a NASA or a well-funded government organization with relevant networks, friendlier regulations and focused grants for space technologies, and two, smart “space” capital or more founder-friendly, big check-sized, visionary investors,” he says.

Adam Gilmour, CEO of Gilmour Space Technologies, a launch provider with operations in Singapore and Australia, believes the countries in Southeast Asia with space agencies can help private companies better.

“The main issue we have in Singapore is the lack of a place to do engine tests for our rocket engine and sub-orbital test launches, hence we operate in Australia as well,” he says. However, he still credits Singapore for supporting the ecosystem through government grants.

Gilmour says another challenge is finding enough talent with experience in space technologies. “There is not yet a critical mass that lets us hire talent in Southeast Asia with a lot of space industry experience so we must look outside to source foreign talent.  This will change in the next five to ten years as more start-ups operate out of Southeast Asia and as the experience level [here] rises,” he says.

For Bidushi Bhattacharya, Ph.D., the CEO and co-founder of Astropreneurs HUB and the CEO and founder of Bhattacharya Space Enterprises, “The biggest challenge is getting people to realize that the global space ecosystem is growing rapidly and will provide innumerable opportunities in the private sector in the next decade.”

Bhattacharya sees her organizations as playing a key role in this market education. “Our training and education company, Bhattacharya Space Enterprises, will continue to grow and feed the space-knowledgeable workforce through workshops and public outreach.  Our incubator, Astropreneurs HUB, will continue to support start-ups in NewSpace, as the commercial space sector is called,” she says.

Gilmour and Jha are just as optimistic about the future of space tech in Southeast Asia.

Gilmour Space Technologies is working on a small satellite launch vehicle that can send payloads cheaply into space. “We plan on giving start-ups with seed or Series A funding extremely discounted launch prices for the first test launch of their technology.  This removes a large barrier of entry for small satellite companies,” says Gilmour, adding that they are also working on a high impulse deep space rocket motor that can send small satellites to the orbits of the moon, Mars, and beyond.

Jha believes that communications and connectivity are much needed in Southeast Asia, since the developing countries in the region have a younger, more tech-savvy population.

“From every conversation we have had, governments here are realizing that network connectivity is a utility like water and electricity. But unlike the West, they want to leapfrog structured connectivity through huge fiber infrastructure. They are going mobile and satellite first. That puts a huge spotlight on next-generation wireless communication technologies to step up,” he says.