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Indonesia to Build Earth Observation Constellation; Develop Space Launch Capability

The LAPAN A3 Earth observation micro satellite in a cleanroom prior to its 2016 launch. Photograph courtesy of LAPAN.

The head of the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN – Lembaga Penerbangan dan Antariksa Nasional) announced in Singapore that his country intends to build and launch two Earth observation microsatellites by 2020, and that Indonesia still has ambitions to develop its own space launch capability.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Djamaluddin, the Head of LAPAN, told the audience at the Global Space and Technology Convention (GSTC) in Singapore that Indonesia intends to build a microsatellite with a multispectral imager (LAPAN A4) and another with a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imager (LAPAN A5).

Indonesia already has three Earth observation microsatellites in orbit, LAPAN A1 (launched in 2007 and still operational), LAPAN A2 (launched in 2015), and LAPAN A3 (launched in 2016), all on Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLV). The addition of LAPAN A4 and A5 will complete a five-satellite constellation for Indonesia that performs a variety of functions, including maritime domain awareness (MDA) for the waters around the Indonesian Archipelago, and land and resources management purposes.

LAPAN A1, A2, and A3 all weight between 50-120 kilograms, but LAPAN A4 and A5 will likely weigh between 100-300 kilograms. LAPAN A5 will be the first microsatellite to carry a SAR imager, which is being built for LAPAN by Chiba University in Japan.

Professor Djamaluddin indicated that the construction of LAPAN A4 and A5 should pave the way for Indonesia to build its own large high-resolution Earth observation satellite.

“So far we have made three microsatellites – LAPAN A1, A2 and A3, and now we are preparing the LAPAN A4 and LAPAN A5, and we hope that after 2020 we will have an operational microsatellite constellation,” Professor Djamaluddin told his Singapore audience.

Professor Djamaluddin also suggested that Indonesia has ambitions to develop its own space launch capability, with LAPAN regularly launching sounding rockets as part of this agenda.

Indonesia’s geographical position on the Earth’s Equator, as well as its thousands of uninhabited islands, potentially make it an ideal space launch location since the spin of the Earth on its axis can provide Equatorial space launches with an additional 1609.3 kilometers-per-hour launch velocity, compared to launching from higher latitudes with the same amount of rocket fuel.

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