Local firm aims to put first Singaporean in space by May

(From left) Singapore Space and Technology Association chairman Jonathan Hung, National Research Foundation adviser Lui Pao Chen and In.Genius founder Lim Seng at the announcement by In.Genius on the next phase in the mission to put the first Singaporean into space. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - A local firm's plan to send the first Singaporean into space may finally take off this year.

Technology firm In.Genius said the space flight, which has been in the works since 2013, will take place on May 15 in Alice Springs, Australia.

At a media briefing on Friday (Feb 2), company founder and director Lim Seng said the flight will involve launching a capsule into space using a high-altitude balloon.

He said a candidate to pilot the craft has been identified from a shortlist of 26 people, but declined to give any details.

Started in 2013, the project has the backing of the Science Centre Board and the Singapore Space and Technology Association (SSTA).

But it has been a bumpy ride for In.Genius.

It had originally planned to conduct the flight in 2015 in Singapore, in conjunction with the Republic's 50th anniversary celebrations. But the plan was delayed when the firm was unable to buy a space capsule component and had to design and build it from scratch.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore also did not approve the firm's plan to launch its balloon here, citing possible safety risks to aircraft in Singapore airspace. This forced the firm to head to Australia instead.

Several candidates to pilot the space capsule had also backed out after being asked to pay for their training, which included a helium balloon pilot course and para-jumping.

Despite the snags, In.Genius pressed ahead and conducted two successful space flights at altitudes of more than 30km in 2016 in Alice Springs. It also obtained a space suit.

The team is now "all ready" to fly into space, said Mr Lim.

"We have permission to access space from Alice Springs, we have the spacesuit, we have three space capsules, we have perfected the life support system," he told reporters.

Being able to put a person in space opens up commercial and research possibilities for Singapore, he added.

Mr Lim declined to give details of the estimated cost of the mission. In an interview with The Straits Times in 2014, he had said it would cost between $5 million and $10 million, and that the firm had received funding from investors.

SSTA president Jonathan Hung said what In.Genius had done with a small team of six was an achievement in itself.

"Even where we are today is a milestone," he said.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.