Why It Matters

6 mini-satellites but a big stride

A model of the TeLEOS-1 satellite.
A model of the TeLEOS-1 satellite.PHOTO: ST FILE

As far as satellites go, the six made-in-Singapore satellites that were launched into space and now orbiting the Earth may be considered modest.

After all, the biggest - the 400kg TeLEOS-1 that was designed and built by a fledgling joint venture led by defence manufacturer Singapore Technologies Electronics - is categorised as a mini-satellite.

The rest, assembled by researchers and students in Singapore's two universities and a space technology firm here, are no bigger than a mini-fridge.

But their successful blast-off has given a significant boost to Singapore's efforts to build up a credible space and satellite industry.

These first steps will ensure that Singapore eventually reaps the benefits of the global space economy which, according to the United States-based research organisation Space Foundation, grew 27 per cent from 2008 to US$314 billion (S$443 billion) in 2013.

Nanyang Technological University's (NTU's) researchers are already making a difference, attempting a first-of-its-kind experiment that will eventually allow small low-orbit satellites to relay data or beam back images anytime or anywhere from space. This has, so far, not been done by any satellite that is orbiting at a height of less than 2,000km above ground, said NTU.

This is noteworthy, given that Singapore launched its first locally made satellite - the X-Sat - only in 2011. Then, the Government had just set up the Office for Space Technology and Industry (OSTIn), under the Economic Development Board, to grow Singapore's space and satellite industry.

Its staff strength of 20 researchers has since expanded to more than 150. The industry now has more than 30 firms employing 1,000-plus professionals working with their contemporaries in more established satellite programmes in Britain, France and China, said OSTIn executive director Beh Kian Teik. And more expertise will be needed, with 300 professionals expected to join the industry over the next five years, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2015, with the headline '6 mini-satellites but a big stride'. Print Edition | Subscribe