Lifting off: Early Stage

Spacetech firms in Southeast Asia are quietly developing their businesses. Some are already in orbit.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash. Photo by NASA on Unsplash.

Outer space has long captured our imagination. Even after decades of space exploration, the goings-on beyond our atmosphere hold our fascination, particularly with trailblazing entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos pouring money into SpaceX and Blue Origin to take human consciousness to other planets. And companies in China are also in a race to develop the technologies for commercial rocket launches.

Aside from those well-established names, startups around the world are part of the race to space too. For this week’s “Early Stage,” KrASIA’s writers will look at a few firms in Southeast Asia that have their sights on the stars.

After a two-decade career at NASA, Bidushi Bhattacharya landed in Singapore. She founded the spacetech incubator Astropreneurs Hub in January 2017, because she saw a local vacuum in what is a USD 383 billion sector. Aiming to take ideas “from laptop to launchpad,” Astropreneurs Hub brings simulation tools and training programs to entrepreneurs whose business may someday exist, at least in part, beyond Earth.

Spire, a company founded in San Francisco, also has a presence in Singapore. The firm uses a constellation of nanosatellites—each called a Low Earth Multi-Use Receiver, or LEMUR—with continually reprogrammable sensors to gather data about our planet—think of weather patterns and other information that is of interest to the maritime and aviation industries. Using a collection of small satellites in low earth orbit means sensors can pass over locations of interest hundreds of times a day, maximizing the information about them that is generated. And when the satellite reaches the end of its life cycle, which is up to five years, it simply succumbs to physics and burns up in the atmosphere.

A handful of countries conduct orbital launches—the United States, Russia, China, Japan, and a few others. One company, Equatorial Space Industries, wants to add Singapore to that list. Previously based in The Hangar at NUS Enterprise, the startup has since moved to a new facility to focus on building its own rocket, with plans to launch it from the South China Sea—at a safe distance away from land-dwellers—carrying nanosatellites that can offer services to clients. Earlier this year, ESI secured angel funding that will support development for a suborbital vehicle that will be in the air in early 2020.

Over in Thailand, mu Space Corp provides satellite-enabled broadband and mobile connectivity via launch contracts with Blue Origin and Relativity Space, a firm that uses 3D-printed rockets. It is the first Thai startup to acquire a satellite license from the country’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. Established in June 2017, the company had the objective of offering nationwide coverage with its satellite network, but has since decided to explore other space-related developments. In July 2018, mu sent micro-gravity experiments into space. Looking to the future, the company has ambitions to be among Asia’s first space tourism firms.

“Early Stage” is a series where the writers of KrASIA highlight startups that caught our eye for the week.