The National Science Council (NSC) first meeting of the year last Tuesday agreed to the formulation of the 2030 Space Policy to drive the national space sector.
I congratulate our National Space Agency or ANGKASA, an agency under the purview of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), who tirelessly worked on this policy for more than a decade.
The idea of formulating a space policy began in 2001. Numerous stakeholders were consulted, a committee was formed, and the draft was reviewed several times before this successful tabling.
“Space technology” sounds out of reach, even irrelevant, to the man on the street. But the application of space technology is more ubiquitous than we presume – it is in fact used for satellites and space exploration.
Much of the everyday technology we take for granted – from mobile phones, weather forecasting, remote sensing, navigation, telecommunications to satellite television – rely on space technology.
When you surf the Internet on a plane, drive to your destination with the help of GPS, watch a live football match broadcast or swiping your credit card at a petrol kiosk – you are utilising space technology.
The space sector in Malaysia revolves around three main applications. One application is remote sensing, where sensors are mounted on satellites or aircrafts to obtain information about objects or places from a distance.
The Malaysian Remote Sensing Agency, also an agency regulated by MOSTI, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture Selangor, developed the Paddy Cultivation Management System. This system employs remote sensing and Geographic Information System (GIS) to estimate the area of paddy fields, and to monitor its planting activities, contributing to an integrated geospatial database system for paddy crop management.
Remote sensing technologies are also deployed to keep track of forest activities through high-resolution satellite images, keeping illegal logging activities at bay.
Similarly, it is applied in disaster management, typically during the annual monsoon floods.
Critical information such as the location and extend of inundated areas, estimated numbers of flood victims and location of evacuation centers would enable us to evaluate the damage and risk, for flood relief operations.
Other common applications of remote sensing are weather forecasting and the monitoring of haze.
Have you ever looked up your destination or even your own home with mapping services like Google Earth?
Updated satellite imageries and 360-degree panoramic views of streets are at our fingertips for free, thanks to remote sensing technology.
Another focus area for the Malaysian space industry is telecommunications. Telecommunication satellite technology is the most mature business application of space technology, used in communications to cars, flights, ships, and of course, television, radio and hand-held gadgets.
Many households in Malaysia subscribe to direct-to-home (DTH) satellite television service, Astro.
So if you spot an Astro dish on the roof of a house, be it in the urban or kampung area, you could say that this household is using space technology!
Finally, satellite navigation is one of the three critical areas of our space industry. Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) operate by allowing small electronic receivers to determine their coordinates – longitude, latitude and altitude – by using signals from satellites.
When you navigate to your destination using Google Maps or Waze, or book a cab using your smartphone for example, you are essentially using space technology. You would need to have your current location detected by the satellite navigation system.
The Global Positioning System or more well known as “GPS” is a GNSS that is under the purview of the U.S.
Department of Defense. Originally designed for its military, GPS now has millions of civil consumers around the world. Other systems are also under development, most notably by Russia, China and the European Union.
These priority industrial areas in the space sector call for an urgent need for a space policy to properly implement and manage their development. This policy would then form the basis for the formulation of the Outer Space Act.
The Act aims to regulate space related activities, such as the launching of satellites, registration of objects launched into outer space and the operation of an Earth station.
This Act would then enable the government to ratify the international outer space treaties that had been signed.
An example is the “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and the Use of Outer Space (1967).”
Once again outer space technologies are not as foreign as we think. The start of outer space is typically determined to be at 100 km above sea level, and satellites orbit at an altitude much higher than that.
In the international arena on space, Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr. Mazlan Othman has done Malaysia proud by having served as the Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna.
The Office’s primary mandate is to promote the peaceful uses of outer space through international cooperation.
Seeing the importance of educating the public on space, the National Planetarium was set up in 1994.
If you happen to be in Kuala Lumpur, do pay the Planetarium a visit! Admission to its gallery is free-of-charge.
As we move towards a digital economy, advancement in space technology would boost emerging technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT). Talents with expertise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields such as physics, computer science, geomatics, geospatial analytics and chemists would be in demand.
Geospatial technology typically uses space technologies like GPS and remote sensing to study earth’s features.
To recognise the role of geospatial professionals, the Institution of Geospatial and Remote Sensing Malaysia had introduced the Geospatialist (Gs) title to its members.
The formulation of the 2030 National Space Policy is therefore a good start to drive the Fourth Industrial Revolution by first strengthening the governance of the space industry. Let us walk the talk!