DGI 2023

Myanmar Mulling Space Agency; Earth Observation Small Satellite With Japanese Assistance

Envisat image of Myanmar taken in 2008. Image courtesy of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Myanmar is mulling creating its own national space agency and the acquisition of an Earth observation small satellite with the assistance of Hokkaido University in Japan. Myanma engineers and scientists are set to take part in the manufacture and integration of some the components and instruments, according to reports in the Myanma media.

According to remarks made by Myanmar’s Vice-President Myint Swe on 31 August 2018 in the new capital city of Nay Pyi Taw, the Myanma government has decided that attempting to build its own Earth observation satellite is too expensive for the foreseeable future, but developing a Myanma space capability and engineering base can best be achieved through cooperation with a country like Japan using small satellite technologies.

“Myanmar will send its own satellite. It will be done when Myanmar possesses technology and experience. If we build this satellite ourselves, it will be too costly. Therefore, for the first priority, we will make concerted efforts to be able to send cost-effective earth observation micro-satellite. Hokkaido University from Japan has offered us to send this satellite,” said Vice-President Myint Swe.

According to local reports, the satellite’s camera and other instruments will be integrated by Myanma engineers. Negotiations on the specifications of the sensors are underway with the relevant ministries in Myanmar. Once these specifications have been decided upon, Myanma engineers will integrate them into the satellite at Hokkaido University in Japan. Presumably, the completed satellite will also be launched from Japan.

Vice-President Myint Swe said that his government was in discussions with Japan and Hokkaido University regarding cooperative mechanisms and protocols, as well as costs.

Myint Swe also suggested that government sub-committees will be formed to explore the establishment of a national space agency, create space legislation, policy, and regulations, and develop national space technologies and capacity. The Vice-President also encouraged open debate among engineers and other experts in Myanmar in order to devise the most optimal approaches to achieving these goals.

News of Myanmar’s space ambitions comes as many countries are condemning the Southeast Asian country of carrying out atrocities against its Rohingya Muslim minority, 700,000 of whom (out of an estimated population of 1.3 million) have been forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, creating a humanitarian crisis there. Earlier this week two Myanma journalists who reported for Reuters were sentenced to seven years imprisonment each by a Myanmar court for reporting on the government’s mistreatment of the Rohingya.

These controversies have put off Western business interest in Myanmar, but have not deterred companies and organisations from China, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea. Animating Asian corporate interest in Myanmar is the intensifying geopolitical competition for influence in Nay Pyi Taw by China and Japan especially. It is in this context that Japan is offering Myanmar satellite technology development and capacity building.

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