S’pore set to have satellites in space

First one likely to be launched into orbit by 1999.

SINGAPORE has taken the first steps to have its own satellites in space – a goal likely to be reached by 1999.

It has asked the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations body regulating the use of satellite orbits and transmission frequencies, for six slots, the union told The Sunday Times.

he satellites Singapore has in mind will have channels capable of redirecting television shows, telephone, telegraphic and other communications to vast areas across Asia.

Confirming the applications, Mr Lim Choon Sai, director (radio) of the Telecommunications Authority of Singapore (TAS), said:

“Though there is very little domestic need for satellite communications in Singapore, we do require good and efficient telecommunications with other countries because of our extensive trade activities and the external economy policy.”

Having its own satellites was also “a logical step” for Singapore which has become one of the telecommunication hubs in the world, he added, in response to questions from The Sunday Times.

The applications for the slots were filed by TAS, the regulator of telecommunications development in the Republic. The first application was made in August 1992 and the second in November that year, Mr Lim revealed.

Each application was for three orbital slots 22,235 miles (35,576 km) over the Equator, known commonly as geostationary orbits. One of the slots is over Singapore and the rest over the Indian Ocean.

Though TAS has filed for six orbits, it does not mean that six satellites will be launched.

First, exhaustive technical analyses have to be done to determine the likelihood of the new satellites interfering with the frequencies of other proposed or existing satellites. If this is likely, the countries concerned have to work out a compromise involving modifications to orbits or frequencies.

Applications are likely to come to nought unless a compromise is achieved.

Reflecting the rush into space, the “coordinating process” can involve a number of countries and many meetings. Negotiations can take as long as three years.

Mr Lim said that for one of the orbits, Singapore will have to coordinate with 17 countries, including China, India, Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia.

But there is a deadline: a satellite must be launched within six years after its application has been filed, though extensions are sometimes granted.

The spokesman for the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union, Ms Francine Lambert, said there were now four Asean countries setting up geostationary satellite networks.

Top of the list was Thailand with 12 satellites applied for and either launched or in various stages of the approval process, next was Indonesia with 11, then Singapore with six, and finally, Malaysia with two.

Filing applications early is a prudent measure as the union has a policy of first come first served.

However, countries with ambitions of becoming satellite owners have to do their sums carefully as each communications satellite can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The final price tag depends on such things as the nature of the satellite, its size and the level of technology of the electronics on board.

Although the Singapore applications were filed by TAS, the authority will not finance and operate the satellites. This will be done by an organisation that finds the project viable economically.

Whether this will be Singapore Telecom or other companies with the required financial muscle remains to be seen.

As for who the users of the satellite channels will be, TAS’ Mr Lim said that this will depend on the operator and the commercial arrangements it makes with those service providers who want to reach the regions covered by the satellites.

He was optimistic. He said that several parties were examining the feasibility of operating the satellites and added: “We are confident that Singapore will join the rank of satellite owners in the not too distant future.”

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