In spite of the pandemic, the race for space continues to heat up as updates on the space industry and new feats hit headlines in the first half of this year, particularly from China.
In May, China became the first country to carry out an orbiting, landing and roving operation during its first mission to Mars – a feat unmatched by the only other two nations to reach the Red Planet, the US and Russia, according to AFP.
To note, Morgan Stanley’s Space Team has estimated that the roughly US$350 billion global space industry could surge to over US$1 trillion by 2040.
As highlighted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its background paper for the G20 Space Economy Leaders’ Meeting (Space20), space activities are expanding globally, with a record number of countries and commercial firms investing in space programmes.
“Never before has there been so much interest in the space economy, with satellites in orbit registered in over 80 countries and growing public and private investments,” OECD said in the paper.
“Ever more ‘down-to-earth’ activities are derived from satellite signals and data, contributing to new economic activities often far removed from initial investments in space infrastructure.”
According to OECD, the space economy can be defined as “the full range of activities and the use of resources that create and provide value and benefits to human beings in the course of exploring, understanding, managing and utilising space”.
OECD explained that it goes well beyond the space manufacturing sector, also comprising the increasingly pervasive impacts of space-derived products, services and knowledge on economies and societies.
“Estimated annual global commercial revenues from the space sector are in the range of US$280 billion to US$300 billion (OECD, 2019).
“The bulk of the revenues come from commercial satellite services (US$126 billion to US$130 billion) based on satellite capacity (for example, telecommunications signals), while space systems’ manufacturing are valued at less than US$20 billion, and often sustained by government procurement.
“The second largest share of revenues (US$125 billion to US$130 billion) consists of consumer equipment, which is a market dominated by consumer electronics companies (for example, devices and chipsets to receive positioning signals, satellite television dishes).
“But space activities have impacts far beyond commercial revenues, with spillovers in many segments of the economy, for instance in agriculture, transport and the environment.
“Technology transfers from initial space exploration and human spaceflight missions also find their way into many diverse commercial products (for example, medical imagery, water and air purifying systems).”
Morgan Stanley’s Space and Global Auto and Shared Mobility teams head Adam Jonas highlighted in a podcast that satellites have long been key to the functioning of critical systems on Earth.
“We’re not trying to be alarmists, but more to raise awareness about what is potentially the disruption of all disruptions, and that is quantum communication,” Jonas said.
“Satellites have long been key to the functioning of critical systems on Earth: from accurate GPS navigation, to the calibration of atomic clocks that protect the money in your bank account.
“But satellites would also be the most feasible way to achieve global quantum communication over far longer distances, greater coverage, and configurability vis-a-vis terrestrial networks.
“Add in the exponential growth of data in an ever expanding global computational cloud, and the role of space-based communication is greatly enhanced. These advances are being propelled by falling launch costs from reusable rockets, combined with artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“These innovations are dramatically reducing the cost of access to space, while improving the effectiveness of space-based infrastructure by potentially orders of magnitude.”
Serba Dinamik ventures into space tech industry
Of special interest is Sarawak-born Serba Dinamik Holdings Bhd (Serba Dinamik) which is venturing into the space tech industry. The group is now eyeing investment in telecommunications and internet infrastructures, earth observation capabilities, national security satellites and others.
By embarking on space technology applications, Serba Dinamik hopes to bring solutions towards the digital divide by providing satellite broadband connectivity especially towards unserved and underserved areas in Malaysia, focusing on Sabah and Sarawak.
“There is always a hype surrounding space economy these days, it is a result of the recent news about the advanced satellite system, the new generation of reusable rocket launcher, lunar and Mars mission, and new research related to space from global icons like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos,” Serba Dinamik group managing director and group chief executive officer Datuk Dr Mohd Abdul Karim Abdullah said to BizHive.
“Recently the United Arab Emirates unveiled its first Mars programme as well. Malaysians have to do better and significantly invest in the untapped industry.
“Malaysia as we speak has yet to participate in the New Space Economy. Nevertheless, we are well equipped to do so.
“For us Malaysians, we are not too far behind as we have seen our local space enthusiasts working in a space community under various organisations like Malaysian Space Initiatives (MiSI), Malaysian Space Week, and a lot more.”
Abdul Karim observed that the rush to explore the expanding frontiers of the space economy is accelerating, with sustainability and government-related applications driving critical growth and private investment.
“Space technology in this era of modernisation is essential not just for the future of the planet but the future of commerce.
“For instance, satellites are now providing a clearer view of how industries and human activities are intensifying climate change, while communications, navigation and national security issues dominate governments’ growing interests in space.”
In the foreseeable future, Serba Dinamik hopes to address these issues by embarking on Space Technology applications.
“One of the immediate problems that could be resolved in our country currently is the connectivity in rural areas. Connectivity plays an integral role in our daily lives and the population in rural areas are not equipped with it.
“Serba Dinamik wishes to bring solutions towards the digital divide by providing satellite broadband connectivity especially towards unserved and underserved areas in Malaysia, focusing on Sabah, Sarawak, and Southeast Asia region.”
Meanwhile, Serba Dinamik also believes in promoting high-value engineering and ventures into a new industry that could provide a spin-off of real implementation towards Industrial Revolution 4.0.
“Space Technology could catapult and enable new talent, research, technology transfer, and job opportunities for the whole supply chain leading to the development of an ecosystem.”
Local space agency to further strengthen development of space economy and industry
A major player gaining traction is the Malaysian Space Agency (MYSA) which has been expanding into space initiatives by proceeding with the first Space Bill in the region and the recent collaboration with the industry such as Serba Dinamik.
“MYSA took the initiative via the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to introduce the Malaysian Space Board Bill 2020, tabled for its first reading late in the year 2020,” Abdul Karim said.
“The Bill bodes well for Serba Dinamik as we believe that Malaysia should explore the potential of venturing into the New Space Economy, and we are in full support of the initiatives to promote more public-private partnerships amongst the industry players.”
Under this initiative, MYSA is committed to supporting Serba Dinamik to further strengthen the development of the space economy and industry in Malaysia.
The group believes that this mutual Public-Private Partnership can enable a rebound in the Space industry locally.
For now, Serba Dinamik is focusing on commercialising Space Technology applications, as the group believes that it is a better option to invest in telecommunications and internet infrastructures, earth observation capabilities, national security satellites and others.
“It is common that when talking about Space, the community would think of sending astronauts into Space, or even talk about interplanetary exploration. There is no shortage of hype surrounding the idea of sending astronauts into space.
“However, it is not something that we are currently looking into as we are more into looking to commercialise space technology applications.
“We are trying to debunk the traditional understanding of human-based space exploration programmes, as in reality it is a better (and cheaper) option to invest in telecommunications and internet infrastructures, earth observation capabilities, national security satellites, and much more.
“We are interested in penetrating the orbit and in-orbit servicing market due to the high demand of existing big players in the satellite constellation development and satellite launch program with huge market opportunities.”
Serba Dinamik is also interested in focusing to serve the Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) activities while building up the capabilities through various programs and researches through the group’s New Space Economy NEXUS (NSEN), a collaboration with several universities.
Serba Dinamik also intends to be involved in global space programmes and participating in international partnerships and investments to enable the group’s capability into this new venture.
Sarawak can be key for Malaysia’s space growth
From the perspective of Serba Dinamik, an end-to-end ecosystem from an industrial and business portfolio point of view is something that the group wants to address.
“From the ability to operate Space Assets be it LEO, Middle-Earth Orbit (MEO) and Geostationary Equatorial Orbit (GEO), designing, building and, operating its own dedicated Mission Control for its own intend or to serve clients globally, serving the logistics of space assets delivery and into probably hostings the horizontal operations of future space assets.”
Serba Dinamik has also identified strategic geographic locations for space industries to be developed in Sarawak.
“These are areas that have been impacted by low connectivity and outreach from technological advancement, but due to strategic location, Sarawak can be the key for Malaysian’s space industry to boom.”
Abdul Karim revealed that all of this will be addressed in a timely and strategic manner.
“The basic know-how is ready within our nexus and university partners.
“With proper strategic and business planning we can own or co-own this infra with various business models that we are exploring with our strategic partners including public and private entities also both locally and globally.”
To note, Serba Dinamik revealed this past week that it activated its first teleport and Network Operating Centre (NOC) with its strategic partner, Network Innovations, a global integrated technology provider.
According to Bernama, Serba Dinamik said in a statement that its primary role in this NSEN is to invest in the assets and infrastructure to solve earth bound issues from space.
“To develop this satellite technology, Serba Dinamik is partnering with global industry leaders to harness their technical know-how and capabilities for business expansion and industry-academia collaboration,” it said.
Serba Dinamik noted that the space technology division is initiating corporate social responsibility projects to support the government of Malaysia by offering connectivity solutions to unserved and underserved areas in four selected locations.
“All these sites are expected to be up and running by the second week of July 2021.”
Serba Dinamik affirmed that it will also start investing in assets and infrastructures relating to satellite connectivity.
“As part of its long term plan, Serba Dinamik is now at the design phase for its own telecommunication satellite with its partners from all over the world. This design phase involves NSEN university partners. The main deployment of satellite services will be initiated soon in Sarawak.”
Serba Dinamik’s space division to be another significant business unit
Going forward, Serba Dinamk will set its vision and outline of the strategic initiatives onto the space technology exploration by establishing a dedicated subsidiary for space technology in the third quarter of 2021 (3Q21).
With the right ecosystem and partners around it, Serba Dinamik has a clear strategy and framework for its new venture.
“For instance, engaging with the local research partners through the establishment of NSEN, enables the collaboration and depository of knowledge via the academia into the venture.
“We are looking at NSEN to get similar cooperation with top universities like the Delfi Space Program by TU Delft where its talents and expertise on space will provide us insight into the local, regional and global impact of the space sector on the research, education and commercialisation.
“NSEN’s vision is to contribute ground-breaking solutions to the Space sector and to serve the scientific, economic, and societal needs that the Space sector required.”
Apart from this, Serba Dinamik has also set up communication with global key stakeholders and is looking to form partnerships on a global scale.
Does Malaysia actually have the talent or human capital to support the space industry here?
On this, Abdul Karim acknowledged that it is a highly technical area – as it is rocket science, yet there are so many passionate talents that are eager to explore it.
“We have Malaysians working at global space corporations and industries, however there are limited opportunities for space players in Malaysia,” he said.
“The ecosystem is not there yet in the space industry. As such this is the role of Serba Dinamik, to jump-start the industry.
“We already have multiple numbers of subject matter expert locally that act as a conduit to receive the knowledge and technology transfer and adapt it into the local environment.”
According to Abdul Karim, the NSEN is established with the aspiration to function as a knowledge and technology transfer hub on space technology.
It is a center for Serba Dinamik-led space programmes for which the relevant technology and knowledge transfer as well as research and development, commercialisation and innovation (RDCI) respective to the expertise and functionality of each university involved in the Nexus.
“When we talk about the space industry, it is not limited to only the pinnacle of engineering of space-based assets or technology, but the ground segment, regulatory and compliances, safety and others are equally important.
“NSEN is the hub to address this, from readily available courses in each institute of higher learning from multiple disciplines and sector, enhancement towards space industry specifics will be developed to ensure the sustainability of human capital at various levels.”
Abdul Karim highlighted that some collaboration with international universities is also now in talks as education and human capital development partners.
“The universities in question are well-established in respect to various angles of Space Technology, Industry and Economy.
“NSEN is also established for each higher learning institution to work together and collaborate and share its capabilities and most importantly to not work in a silo.
“For example, imagine building a launch vehicle via receiving technology knowledge and transfer from our partner and collaborators, each university will have its own function in the technology and knowledge transfer programme.
“And ultimately will be able to be self-sustained and self-reliant in the (next) five to 10 years. The example of this approach is modelled against the programme executed in South Korea and Turkey.”
He also believed that the size of human capital for the space industry will expand in the next five to 10 years.
“For example, to embark into Satellite manufacturing, design, assembly and In Orbit Delivery for Geostationary orbit will require hundreds of vendors.
“This is one of the aims to be specific in Serba Dinamik Space ventures.
“The Human Capital will not necessarily be only in Serba Dinamik, it could be in various entities – university, subsidiary, and agencies.”