Singapore plots economic lift-off with satellites, spacecraft

The push into space technology, announced earlier this year, will initially focus on satellites to meet growing demand for top-speed Internet connections as well as high-resolution images commonly used in surveillance, forestry and energy exploration
The push into space technology, announced earlier this year, will initially focus on satellites to meet growing demand for top-speed Internet connections as well as high-resolution images commonly used in surveillance, forestry and energy exploration. -- BT FILE  PHOTO: YEN MENG JIIN 

(REUTERS) - Singapore's foray into the US$300 billion-a-year space industry may seem like a lucrative venture, but the path is lined with risks, especially in satellite manufacturing where Western firms have long dominated and entry barriers are high.

The push into space technology, announced earlier this year, will initially focus on satellites to meet growing demand for top-speed Internet connections as well as high-resolution images commonly used in surveillance, forestry and energy exploration.

The venture may also help rekindle Singapore's electronics sector by creating high-paying jobs in the satellites and components segment to replace jobs lost with the decline of disc media and computer parts manufacturing.

Industry observers say success is hardly assured, as the tiny city-state will be fighting tooth and nail for satellite orders with big names such as Thales and Lockheed Martin.

Asian contenders include companies in China and India that are already involved in domestic space programmes, as well as emerging firms like South Korea's Satrec Initiative Co that build satellites at competitive prices.

As it did with biomedicals, Singapore's bid to carve out a niche in the space industry involves supporting local champions and enticing industry leaders to set up or expand operations in the country through a mix of favourable laws, tax incentives and skilled workers.

Officials declined to say how much the effort is expected to cost, but it could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars if projects by government-linked firms are included.

"In the immediate term, our efforts are focused on developing our satellite industry, particularly in areas of small satellite design and manufacturing and satellite-based services," said Gian Yi-Hsen, director of Singapore's Office for Space Technology and Industry.

In its satellites venture, Singapore will take advantage of the city-state's capabilities in areas like precision engineering, electronics and infocommunications, he said.

Singapore is already a base for communication satellite operators such as Eutelsat Communications, Inmarsat and Singapore Telecommunications, and can build on these capabilities to help broadcasters transmit programmes and ships communicate with other vessels.