Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean at the Global Space & Technology Convention on 7 June 2021.
Reach for the Stars –
Strengthening Our Innovation, Capabilities and Partnerships
Mr Jonathan Hung,
Executive Chairman of Singapore Space and Technology Limited (SSTL),
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning to all of you. A warm welcome to the Global Space and Technology Convention (or GSTC) 2021, both to our local participants and those attending virtually from around the world. I would like to commend SSTL for soldiering on and organising this conference despite the challenges of COVID-19, with the appropriate health protocols for the well-being of our participants. GSTC was one of the last face-to-face conventions held a year ago in Singapore before so many of our countries and so many of us had to shift to new modes of staying in contact. Fortunately, the close relationships built have worked very well over the past year.
Developments over the past year
Despite the disruption to lives globally, COVID-19 did not hamper the growth of the space industry. Instead, investment into the space sector set a new record in 2020. Globally, people in many countries have made greater and more innovative use of space-based applications to help overcome the challenges of their COVID-19 situations. Satellite communications enabled telemedicine, and remote learning and working. Families and friends were able to stay in touch. GNSS applications helped governments in their efforts to move faster than the virus, to help protect lives and bring the pandemic under control.
Space exploration and activities saw many successes over the past year. It has indeed been an exciting year. The US, China and the UAE embarked on successful Mars missions, taking advantage of Mars’s favourable position. SpaceX became the first private company to send people into orbit; while Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic made advances in their ambition for sub-orbital space tourism. In April, China deployed the first module of its Tiangong space station, which will open up new opportunities for collaboration when operational. These developments are bringing humankind one step closer to more convenient and frequent space travel, and even the possibility of commercial space tourism – an exciting, although perhaps somewhat ironic prospect when COVID-19 has disrupted travel and tourism here on Earth.
Unlocking the Potential of “New Space” Developments
Exploring space is the exploration of the very beginnings of time and our universe. At the same time, there are more immediate applications. Space has never been more central to our everyday lives – from monitoring climate change and environmental degradation, to weather prediction and the provision of telecommunications and navigation. The space industry is now exploring many exciting new frontiers. Companies are exploring the servicing of satellites in orbit to extend their service lives. Others are exploring the possibility of in-situ resource utilisation – to make things with locally available materials on planets and asteroids – that can support humankind in future deep space travel efforts. Yet others are looking into manufacturing in space, to take advantage of the zero-gravity environment to create materials and products, that would not be possible on Earth. These developments have shown that space is not just the exclusive domain of bigger countries. Opportunities in space are opening up for all players.
We can all push the frontiers of “New Space” developments and leverage the ongoing revolution to benefit all mankind. I propose that we can do so through Innovation, Capability and Partnerships.
First, innovation, which is at the very heart of the space industry, as it is all about venturing into unchartered territory to create new possibilities. To foster continuous innovation, we need to grow a vibrant eco-system. 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. Many exciting “New Space” developments are now being driven by start-ups. In March, Astroscale launched a mission to test its technology to locate, retrieve and remove space debris. This is an important innovation for tackling the challenge of used satellites and other debris “overcrowding” our orbital environment, and create more “space” in space.
Here in Singapore, we have been growing our nascent but flourishing local space ecosystem. A number of new start-ups have taken root over the past year, such as Bifrost, which creates synthetic data to train Geospatial AI; and Qosmosys, a spacecraft solutions provider. I am happy that a growing number of our start-ups have been noticed by investors. Zero Error Systems, which develops radiation-hardened electronics, raised US$1.85 million in a seed round last October. Our start-ups have also developed technologies that are valued by space players. For instance, AddValue Innovation’s Inter-satellite Data Relay System (IDRS), which enables operators to do real-time tasking of their satellites, is on San Francisco-based Capella Space’s satellites, and will be on Boston-based Analytical Space, Inc.’s Fast Pixel satellites.
Second, capability. The space industry involves highly complex and high-precision engineering and technology. We therefore need to invest in deep technical capabilities, which have to be built up over time. There are two aspects to this, namely investing in research and development (R&D); and developing our people.
Singapore has launched several R&D grant calls where space-based technologies can support our national priorities in aviation, maritime, climate and the environment, and resilience. Our Office for Space Technology & Industry (or OSTIn) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore are supporting research on space-based VHF communications to achieve better range and reliability compared to current means. OSTIn is opening a grant call this month for R&D proposals for disruptive small satellite technologies to improve the performance of satellite buses and payloads, while reducing size and cost.
Our local companies are also investing in R&D. In February this year, ST Geo-Insights and the NUS Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (or CRISP) signed an MOU to collaborate on the development of satellite-based AI applications in areas such as mega infrastructure development, agricultural growth tracking and climate change, including monitoring greenhouse gas emissions and the quality of coastal waters.
Beyond R&D, other collaborations to deepen local capabilities are taking place. ST Engineering and the Defence Science and Technology Agency have partnered to acquire an Electro-Optic satellite for launch next year. Called DS-EO, it will have higher resolution and multispectral imaging. It will better meet the needs of Singapore agencies, such as for maritime security and oil spill detection, and allow ST Engineering to enhance their commercial imagery services.
We hope to inspire a future generation to fulfil their dreams in space. Our agencies and universities are grooming a future pool of space scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs, and creating more opportunities for our undergraduates and young professionals to be exposed to cutting-edge space technology. For example, Geo-Insights-CRISP, in collaboration with OSTIn, will co-organise a remote sensing workshop for students later this year. Earlier this year, OSTIn and SSTL partnered the School of Science and Technology to conduct a workshop for secondary students on radio communication with satellites, building on SSTL’s rich experience in STEM outreach. This was a pilot for a new OSTIn “Space Explorers’ Network” outreach programme based on ground-up initiatives by teachers and students to explore topics of interest related to space.
Third, our partnerships. As a country that has always advocated an open, inclusive and collaborative international system, we strongly believe that international partnerships and dialogue are essential to exploit the benefits of Space for all. The “New Space” economy offers tremendous potential, but it also brings new challenges such as space debris and orbital congestion. We need to ensure that all parties conduct ourselves in space responsibly and sustainably as space grows in importance for our economies and societies.
Through bilateral partnerships and our participation in forums such as the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), Singapore seeks to contribute meaningfully to the global efforts and conversations to strengthen the international regime governing space activities. We also continue to look beyond our borders to collaborate with other space-faring nations. Singapore recently joined the Space Climate Observatory (or SCO) as its 30th member. We look forward to contributing to the SCO’s efforts to tap earth observation tools and data to study the impacts of climate change. OSTIn has also signed a Letter of Intent with the UAE Space Agency to strengthen cooperation on topics such as space science and technology, and space policy and law.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, we are all here today because we are fascinated by the mysteries and vastness of outer space. We are united by our commitment to understand space better so that we can harness its vast potential to benefit all mankind. But the more we learn about space, the more we realise how precious our planet Earth is, and how small is our being and knowledge, in the vastness of space.
This is why all of us – governments, companies, research institutes, universities – need to work together to increase our collective knowledge and create new opportunities 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.
I hope that all participants at this year’s GSTC will make the most of the opportunities for networking and collaboration to find new inspiration, insights and ideas. Thank you very much and have a good conference.
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