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APRSAF is the perfect platform to promote regional collaboration in satellite development

Mr. Robertus Heru Triharjanto, Senior Researcher, Center for Satellite Technology, National Institute of Aeronautics and Space of Indonesia (LAPAN), is a satellite designer and test engineer who has been involved in developing the Indonesian satellite. He talked about the current status of satellite development in Indonesia and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, and he explained his vision for further development through regional cooperation. This interview was conducted at APRSAF-21 in December 2014 in Tokyo.

Secretariat

Indonesia is investing more and more in space activities and satellite development. Can you tell us about the status of Indonesian space activities?

Robertus Heru Triharjanto

Regarding the satellite development program, we already have a roadmap toward our fifth microsatellite. The first one completed its operations in 2013. In 2015, we will launch our second satellite, and in 2016, we plan to launch our third satellite. Ultimately, we have a roadmap to 2019, with our fourth and fifth satellites scheduled to launch in 2018 and 2019. As stated in some of our publications, every satellite that we build will feature certain improvements. The first satellite carried an analog video camera, but the second one will have a digital camera and ship monitoring system. The third one will be equipped with a multispectral images sensor. For the fourth one, we plan to include a thermal camera in addition to the multispectral images sensor. Eventually, the fifth one will have synthetic aperture radar (SAR).

Secretariat

It is my impression that your development is progressing step-by-step, starting with your first satellite, LAPAN-TUBSAT. From this small one, you are making bigger ones.

Robertus Heru Triharjanto

More complex ones—not much bigger—with more complex missions. The milestone from the first to the second is, according to us, the important one. The first satellite was built in Berlin, Germany, because at the time we did not have the facilities to build microsatellites in Indonesia. We built the second satellite in Indonesia after we established the facilities. Now, since we have microsatellite Assembly, Integration and Test (AIT) centers, we have the capacity to continue and sustain the program.

Secretariat

Do you have any goals or future plans?

Robertus Heru Triharjanto

We submitted to the government some basic proposals beyond our plans for the fifth satellite; they mainly describe what could happen after we have mastered certain satellite technologies. One of the scenarios that we proposed was to develop the space industry in Indonesia. Of course, this will involve a massive investment from the government. Hopefully, in the future, there will be technology vendors that can supply the national requirements for satellite technology. At the moment, there are none, and we must depend on imports.

Secretariat

I see. Now, I would like to know about the situation in ASEAN countries, as I heard your presentation at the Space Technology Working Group this morning. Currently, not only Asian countries but all countries throughout the world depend more and more on or benefit from space systems. So, I think the ASEAN countries have been developing economically, and they also have invested in space systems and rely on them.

Robertus Heru Triharjanto

Yes. The presentation that I brought this morning was simply a study of our neighborhood; basically, we have observed that other ASEAN countries are taking almost the same steps that we took (on different scales, of course). Nevertheless, the aim is the same. Every one of them—Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand—would like to ensure sustainability for space application users in their countries because the applications have proven to be solutions to many of their national problems. They are also aware that their economies are improving, which means more young people are being educated. They wish to attribute greater value to space –related industries so that the associated technology needs within their countries will be met.

If we combine the future capacities of these countries, we see that there is a very good chance of collaboration, and every one of these new players could become part of a cooperative supply chain; thus, their mutual participation would strengthen each other. That is why we promote such discussions through APRSAF because it is the perfect forum for dialogue.

Secretariat

You also mentioned the possibility of a constellation of satellites.

Robertus Heru Triharjanto

Yes, there was a question from a gentleman from India about that. With the existing space assets or the future space assets of these ASEAN countries, could there be a constellation? It is very probable because the mission requirements of each country are quite similar; everybody is looking at land use and land cover, as well as maritime surveillance needs. So, these common needs will require similar sensors. The resolutions may not be the same, but everybody is talking about multispectral images and a similar band. This opens the opportunity for data sharing because the typical application will be served with such sensors.

Secretariat

So, in that case, can not only the ASEAN countries but also Asian countries share or cooperate in making satellites and use them for data sharing?

Robertus Heru Triharjanto

Yes, correct. Not just the ASEAN’s 10 countries. We promote this topic because we would like to highlight that the legal base or platform for multinational cooperation is already there. To create a project that will be financially binding for each nation, we need a legal framework. Part of this framework is inherent in the ASEAN structure, so the potential for collaboration is even greater. However, yes, the idea of constellation would apply to any country in the region and to Asian countries, of course.

Secretariat

In terms of collaboration between the Asian countries on space development, can the APRSAF scheme play a valuable role for all countries in the region?

Robertus Heru Triharjanto

Yes. We appreciate APRSAF and JAXA for creating this forum that enables people to come together and promote their ideas. It has the role of introducing people to each other and strengthening their ideas. So, I believe this forum encourages and supports such collaboration.

Secretariat

This time, you are attending the Space Technology Working Group (STWG), but can other working groups such as the Space Applications Working Group collaborate with STWG?

Robertus Heru Triharjanto

Yes, I think there is potential for collaboration, especially on the application side, which is a lot stronger because every ASEAN nation has become a user of remote sensing data. This collaboration can extend to the technology side where collaboration regarding applications is already strong. It’s like the next level of a pyramid; the application people get together and agree on similar missions, and this effort can extend to the technology people who build sensors, platforms, and so on. I believe this has to start with the application group so that the technology group will be ready to support the requirements.

Secretariat

So, are you saying that we have to climb step-by-step for better goals?

Robertus Heru Triharjanto

The way I see it, the application group already has a multilateral cooperation platform. The ASEAN has the Sub-Committee on Space Technology and Applications (SCOSA) platform, which involves annual meetings to talk about each country’s development. Additionally, there is the Asian Conference on Remote Sensing that takes place every year, and remote sensing experts in the region come together and share their knowledge.

So, in the application sector, it looks like cooperation has become stronger. Now, it is probably about time for cooperation to be taken to the next level—the technology level.

Secretariat

Do you have something you are expecting from this APRSAF scheme, such as the direction it should go or any other new activities?

Robertus Heru Triharjanto

The idea that we had was to use this forum to create stronger cooperation with each other. Indonesia will become the host again next year for the APRSAF, so we hope to promote more collaboration at the project level, especially on the technology level. Hopefully, we can develop a project that each participant is bound to implement. For example, even with the proposal outlined by Thailand on ASEAN remote sensing, the development of future satellites through a constellation among ASEAN countries, and a data sharing platform for collaborating with each other, each participating country would like to retain control of its own space assets. Further, sensors are not uniform. We would like to explore collaboration at the technology level in greater depth so that we can share each other’s capacity.

Secretariat

Maybe with the common platform for co-operationally developed sensors.

Robertus Heru Triharjanto

Correct. The question that was asked in the meeting this morning is common with everybody. The way we look at it, the data transmission system—the data format—is already common; so, the next thing to do is to find a way for everybody to share processing systems and use the images from each other’s payloads. I believe that a satellite, if it is an optic sensor, should have a surplus of capacity to be shared, which is different from radar sensors that only have a 10% of sensors. An optics satellite could take a picture of another country and share it, benefiting everybody.

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