Much room for growth in space sector: Teo Chee Hean

Pandemic has not slowed its progress, he says, calling for vibrant ecosystem here

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean
Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean

While the Covid-19 situation has affected lives all over the world, it has not slowed down the progress of the global space industry, said Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

Opportunities abound in the sector, he said and added that many countries have made heavier use of space-based technologies to overcome challenges posed by the disease.

Satellite communications, for example, allowed people to see doctors, attend school and have work meetings virtually, as well as keep in touch with loved ones.

Systems involving such satellites also helped governments to move faster than the virus in order to help protect lives and bring the pandemic under control, said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.

He was speaking at the 13th Global Space and Technology Convention, which was organised by non-governmental organisation Singapore Space and Technology Limited.

The annual event was held in a hybrid manner this year due to the need for social distancing and safety measures, with some participants attending physically at Sheraton Towers in Scotts Road, while others tuned in virtually.

Mr Teo pointed out that investment in the space sector set a new record last year. He cited successful space activities over the past year, such as Mars missions by the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates, as well as how SpaceX became the first private company to send people into orbit.

In January, New York-based venture capital firm Space Capital reported that private investment in space companies last year set a new annual record of US$8.9 billion (S$11.8 billion), defying industry fears that Covid-19 would stop the past decade's momentum.

Singapore has been growing its nascent but flourishing local space ecosystem and creating more opportunities for its young professionals to be exposed to cutting-edge space technology, said Mr Teo.

Space-related start-ups in Singapore include Bifrost, which creates synthetic data to train artificial intelligence, and Qosmosys, a spacecraft solutions provider.

A growing number of Singapore start-ups have been noticed by investors, said Mr Teo. For instance, Zero Error Systems, which develops radiation-hardened electronics, raised US$1.85 million in a seed round last October.

Mr Teo called for a vibrant ecosystem to be developed here, so that such up-and-coming companies can continue to innovate.

"Beyond the big players, we can nurture smaller companies and start-ups that have the potential to innovate, scale up and grow into globally competitive companies," said the minister.

There is also a need to invest in deep technical capabilities that have to be built up over time, given how the space industry involves highly complex and high-precision engineering and technology.

Mr Teo said that this involves two aspects: investing in research and development (R&D) and developing talented people.

He noted that several R&D grant calls where space-based technologies can support fields such as aviation, maritime, climate and the environment have been launched here. Local companies are also investing in space-related research.

However, beyond research, agencies and universities here are also putting in work to groom a future pool of space scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs, said Mr Teo.

He called for governments, companies, research institutes and universities to collaborate so the collective knowledge about space can be increased, and new opportunities can be created for all.

"Let us work together to grow an innovative space ecosystem, build deep capabilities, and forge strong partnerships, so that we can take new strides and push the frontiers of space development to reach for the stars," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2021, with the headline 'Much room for growth in space sector: Teo Chee Hean'. Subscribe