SINGAPORE: As the Singapore economy restructures, one priority is to identify new growth industries, and these includes the space, or satellite industry.
According to the Singapore Economic Development Board, there are more than 1,000 professionals employed in the industry, and this is expected to grow by 300 professionals over the next five years.
Just recently, six made-in-Singapore satellites were launched into space from India. One of them was the VELOX-II satellite built by Nanyang Technological University, using a data relay terminal from Singapore firm Addvalue.
The technology, which took Addvalue two years to develop, aims to enable real-time communication with low earth orbit satellites and operators, cutting down communication time by as much as 1.5 hours. Currently, such communication is constrained by the satellite's orbit path and the location of the earth stations.
"We have been talking to quite a number of industry players - they are well-known players - that are looking at real commercialisation opportunities,” said Addvalue’s chief technology and operating officer Tan Khai Pang. “So we probably are looking at two years' time down the road, whereby we would have our first commercial launch."
Addvalue started in 1994 as a maker of cordless phones and bluetooth headsets. Undercut by low-cost competitors in the region, it gradually exited the consumer telecommunications business, and reinvented itself as a satellite communications company in 2006.
In the face of rising global competition, one economist said the spirit, and willingness to reinvent is imperative.
Mr Francis Tan, an economist at UOB, explained: "Today, we are not just competing with developed countries, like (those in) Europe, or America. We are also increasingly competing with countries that are reaching the middle-income or going past the middle-income status, and that (includes) China. China even has the scale that we do not have, not just having the scale in terms of production or a strong labour force, but also the scale in terms of a gigantic domestic market."
But even if companies possess the right attitude, they sometimes need a helping hand, Addvalue attributed part of its successful breakthrough to matching subsidies from the Economic Development Board, which enabled them to sink S$6 million into its space venture.
Overall, the Singapore economy is undergoing restructuring and one economist said services-driven industries are likely a key area of focus for economic planners.
"I think they will try to push for the creation of new exportable services, services we can export to the region. So I think there's some hope that this can replace some of the slack in goods demand. So even as we diminish slightly our status as an exporter of goods, there's some hope that services exports can replace that, or even surpass that,” said Mr Leong Wai Ho, chief economist, emerging Asia, at Barclays. "Tourism, R&D, if it's properly commercialised, I think these are some the services that can be pushed overseas."
A newly set-up Committee on the Future Economy has been tasked with reviewing Singapore's economic policies and developing economic strategies for the future.
Apart from the space industry, there are also other new growth areas, or emerging businesses identified by the Economic Development Board of Singapore - some of them in automotives, natural resources, and lifestyle products and services.