Outer Space: A Singapore Odyssey? | campus.sg

by Douglas Lew

Singapore is hailed as a global financial hub and home to one of the busiest ports in the world, but how will she fare should she decide to join the space race? Well, that depends on a multitude of factors. Before that, let us delve into the reasons for our interest in the world that stretches beyond our Earth. 

In the beginning, space exploration began as a means to feed human curiosity and to explore alternative habitats for humans to live on should Earth one day become inhabitable. As such, space was, and still is, dubbed as the next frontier for human conquest as the possibilities waiting to be exploited and harnessed are endless. 

From satellites used for disaster monitoring to building factories in space, the idea of harnessing the literal space beyond terra firma challenges the current paradigm, that humans should not merely limit ourselves to Earth.

What we can learn from space

Research into space capabilities and its potential has been beneficial. In recent decades, the number of satellites launched into space for the purpose of observation and data collection has increased exponentially, and are now said to be able to zoom in to an average person walking on the street (although it raises the pressing issues of privacy). In fact, satellites are responsible for much of our daily activities which we take for granted – such as cellular data and the Global Positioning System (GPS) – accruing the satellite industry a net worth of more than $260 billion in 2016.

Thanks to the space race, scientists and researchers have come up with new methods of food preservation so that astronauts will have a greater variety of food to consume while on an expedition. This technology will trickle down to consumers pretty soon.

Singapore in space

In light of what other countries are doing, what are the current capabilities that Singapore has developed in this budding and lucrative field?

Satellites-wise, Singapore has many of them orbiting Earth. Notable ones include satellites launched by Nanyang Technological University by their own satellite research centre for research and data collection purposes, a shoe-box satellite (dubbed “SpooQy-1”) launched by the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) based in the National University of Singapore to gather data for researchers looking into an abstract field known as “quantum entanglement” that seeks to usher in an era of “quantum communications”, and the very first commercial satellite launched by Singapore, “TeLEOS-1”, built by ST engineering. (It should be noted that the very first satellite launched by Singapore was X-SAT which had multiple stakeholders and was launched in 2011). 

While these satellites were built by Singapore teams, they were launched in countries such as India and Japan, as Singapore lacks the land required to develop the necessary launch capabilities. However, the abundance of tech start-ups and satellite tech research programmes in Singapore paints a very optimistic picture for Singapore’s satellite development industry.

Another key area of exploration is getting into space. While Singapore has the expertise, she lacks the land required to commit to expensive projects like building rocket launchpads. However, a local tech start-up, IN.Genius, recently attempted a third time to put a Singaporean into space by strapping a person in a capsule attached to a high-altitude helium balloon which will then idealistically reach the Armstrong line (20km above sea level). While the attempt was ultimately unsuccessful, it was an example of how Singaporeans continually seek to revolutionise and break barriers.

Perhaps the start-up could collaborate with SSTA (Singapore Space and Technology Association) for their subsequent attempts as it would also be in Singapore’s interest to have a Singaporean in “space”. Additionally, it would also be in Singapore’s interest to look into such efforts as it would bolster the already positive image Singapore has as a technological hub rife with talents and ideas, encouraging more investments from foreign investors, consequently diversifying our brand name.

A future for space

In conclusion, there is much about space that Singapore can use to further her image as a vibrant research hub. The development of satellite capabilities will improve our ability to prevent collisions in our congested straits and enhance our maritime defense against terrorism and the like, strengthening our standing as a maritime nation. 

Our status as a smart city will also be greatly elevated should Singapore be partly responsible for developing next-generation cutting edge communications and information relay systems. It will also be advantageous for Singapore to look into other areas concerning space, such as space exploration, to broaden the scope of space research done in Singapore.

It has been fifty long years since mankind first put a man on the moon – and in the years since then, our technology has developed at breakneck speed. Therefore, I feel that Singapore as a whole is generally well poised in the space race and much can be anticipated of Singapore space capabilities.