Thomas Djamaluddin, Chairman of the LAPAN "Using Space Science to Solve Problems Across the Asia-Pacific Region"

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Indonesia’s LAPAN: Using Space Science to Solve Problems Across the Asia-Pacific Region,Thomas Djamaluddin,Chairman of the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN)

The 21st Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF-21) was held in Tokyo on December 2-5, 2014. APRSAF is an international conference that promotes the use of space in the Asia-Pacific region. During the conference, members of national space agencies and government bodies, as well as university researchers and representatives of private companies, gathered under one roof for lively discussion. We talked with the Chairman of the space agency of Indonesia, the host country for the APRSAF-22, which will convene in 2015.

An archipelago nation needs space technology

— Please give us an overview of the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN), and tell us what you do.

Earth observation microsatellite LAPAN-A1 (courtesy: LAPAN)Earth observation microsatellite LAPAN-A1 (courtesy: LAPAN)

RX-420 (courtesy: LAPAN)RX-420 (courtesy: LAPAN)

The purpose of LAPAN is aerospace-related research and development. The organization was established in 1963, and today our work falls under four core competencies: space science, aerospace technology, remote sensing, and space policy. A recent achievement was the 2007 launch of LAPAN-A1, a microsatellite for Earth observation. It was developed with help from the Technical University of Berlin in Germany, and launched on an Indian rocket. We are currently working on its successors, LAPAN-A2 and LAPAN-A3. Our goal is to launch LAPAN-A2 in mid-2015 and LAPAN-A3 at the end of 2015. I believe we will use Indian rockets for these launches as well. Meanwhile, concerning rockets, we are developing a small solid-fuel rocket. We launched the RX-320 rocket, with a diameter of 32 cm, in 2008, and the RX-420, with a diameter of 42 cm, in 2009. Now we are developing their successor, the RX-450.

— What kinds of projects is LAPAN pursuing now?

First, in the area of space science, is a Space Radar for observing the development of the equatorial atmosphere. In the aerospace technology category, we are working on developing a transport aircraft in collaboration with private companies, a military reconnaissance drone, and sounding rockets and a microsatellite for Earth observation. LAPAN-A2 and LAPAN-A3, which we plan to launch in 2015, weigh no more than around 50 kg, but we are making plans to launch the LAPAN-A4 and LAPAN-A5 satellites, which will weigh 100 kg or more, by 2018, as well as to develop a satellite produced in Indonesia by the end of 2019. We’ll probably begin preparations for domestic production in 2015 or so. As for remote sensing, we are building a National Remote Sensing Data Bank. This data bank archives all remote sensing data acquired by LAPAN’s ground stations, and We want to make this these database useful for all of Indonesia's government institutions, local governments and universities. Finally, in space policy we enacted the Indonesian Space Law in 2013, and we are preparing for the formulation of a space master plan covering the next 25 years.

— What are your thoughts on manned space exploration?

Scientifically, we have an interest in manned space exploration. However, it would be difficult for Indonesia to do this alone. Eventually we might produce an Indonesian astronaut through international collaboration, but at this point it is not our main priority. First I think we should develop our remote sensing and related technologies.

— What do you think is the significance of space development?

I think that space technology is one of the most important technologies in modern life. These days, so many aspects of human lifestyles depend on the use of space. Economic activity also depends on space technology for data communication and so on. Indonesia is particularly dependent on space technology because it is composed of around 17,000 islands, large and small, with a total land area about five times that of Japan's. The country stretches 5,100 km east to west and 1,900 km north to south, so it is essential to construct networks using satellites. We have been building a domestic communications infrastructure using satellites since the 1970s, and presently there are three types of satellites in operation, such as those used in commercial communication. In addition, when a disaster occurs, Earth observation satellites can see the state of damage from space, and they play an important role in preventing secondary disasters. Like Japan, Indonesia is a country with many active volcanoes. We hope that satellites will also contribute to preventing damage before it happens, for example by helping us predict volcanic eruptions. This is why I think that the significance of using space is that it will create a safe and reassuring society for us.

Greater cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region

— Which topics do you think will be particularly significant at APRSAF-21?

Asia-Pacific Space Leaders Meeting (AP-SLM)Session at APRSAF-21Asia-Pacific Space Leaders Meeting (AP-SLM)Session at APRSAF-21

Plenary Session at APRSAF-21Plenary Session at APRSAF-21

APRSAF's purpose thus far has been to advance the development of space technology, but now it seems the emphasis is shifting towards using space technology to help solve problems in the Asia-Pacific region. To do this, APRSAF has been reorganized into four working groups: Space Applications, Space Technology, Space Environment Utilization, and Space Education. Experts will gather under this framework, share activity reports and information, and engage in discussions toward new international cooperation. Although international projects toward solving regional problems are already underway  such as Sentinel Asia (which contributes to disaster prevention), the SAFE environmental effort, and the Climate R3 climate change initiative  I think that by forming working groups at APRSAF, we will facilitate more concrete action. This will benefit the Asia-Pacific region and likely strengthen our cooperative institutions much, much more.

— What kind of effect do you think your participation in APRSAF has had on Indonesia's space development?

By participating in APRSAF, we have improved our knowledge and capacity in remote sensing and other space technology. In addition, when a natural disaster happens, we have provided satellite data through Sentinel Asia not only to verify the state of damage, but also to take measures to hold the damage to a minimum. I think a major benefit is that we can easily acquire the information we want in large quantities, and it is free to access. Furthermore, providing this sort of information to local governments and relevant institutions has, I think, led to support for their activities.

— In the future, what do you expect to do in your APRSAF activity?

Touring a life-size replica of Kibo during the APRSAF-21 technical tourTouring a life-size replica of Kibo during the APRSAF-21 technical tour

We'll probably get various benefits through projects using the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module on the International Space Station, and through Kibo-ABC. In addition to giving researchers the opportunity to conduct experiments in space, Kibo-ABC can contribute to space education for children. For example, one Kibo-ABC program is Space Seed for Asian Future. First we send tomato seeds to Kibo, and then they are sent back to Earth, where junior high school students grow them. The students compare the growth of seeds sent to space with those that weren’t, and then submit reports. Then there is a competition to identify excellent reports. Indonesian students have also joined this program, and it seems they were able to learn about the space environment through their experiments. In addition, at APRSAF we hold a water-rocket competition for elementary and junior high school students in the Asia-Pacific region. This has raised children’s awareness of space. In the future we will have competitions for high school and university students. For example, I really want to run a competition where students can learn about satellites and remote sensing technology.

— Do Indonesian children have an interest in space?

It seems to me that Indonesian children have a growing interest in space activity and space science. One factor may be that the spread of the internet has made it easy to get information. In addition, there are many children with an interest in astronomy, as I had when I was young. Planetariums are popular, and there are many active groups for amateur and professional astronomers. Outside of APRSAF, we also hold our own water-rocket competition, which seems to spur children’s interest in space activity.

Using space technology to fight maritime problems

— The next APRSAF host country is Indonesia. Do you have an outlook for what kind of conference you want it to be?

Indonesia's current president has a vision of making maritime affairs a national priority item, and at the next APRSAF I think we will focus on maritime management. For example, we want to discuss methods of monitoring illegal fishing by using remote sensing technology, because our fishermen suffer great losses due to illegal fishing from overseas. In addition, the Malacca Straits between Indonesia and Malaysia are well-known for pirates who attack commercial shipping, so I would like to reduce the harm from pirates by using watchful eyes from space. By using space technology to support activities at sea, I hope we can solve maritime problems affecting not only Indonesia, but other Asia-Pacific countries as well.

— How do you want to develop LAPAN in the future?

My goal is to move steadily forward in our four competencies of space science, aerospace technology, remote sensing and space policy. For the future, we have a plan to construct a space port in the equatorial region of eastern Indonesia, and I would like to proceed with research and development, so we can eventually launch Indonesian-made satellites on Indonesian-made rockets.

— Finally, please tell us about your hopes for collaboration with JAXA.

Dr. Djamaluddin, LAPAN Chairman, and Dr. Okumura, JAXA PresidentDr. Djamaluddin, LAPAN Chairman, and Dr. Okumura, JAXA President

We have built collaborative relationships with Japanese research institutions and universities. With JAXA in particular, we have had many results from partnerships related to remote sensing, such as satellite data usage. JAXA has the capabilities to develop satellites and rockets on its own, and we see a need to partner up in these kinds of areas as well. I hope JAXA will actively support us.

Thomas Djamaluddin

Hironobu Yokota

Chairman of the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN)

Dr. Djamaluddin graduated from the Bandung Institute of Technology in 1986, with an undergraduate degree in Astronomy. Subsequently, he studied at Kyoto University, where he earned a post-graduate degree in astronomy in 1991, and a Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1996. He was Director of LAPAN’s Climate and Atmospheric Science Applications Center from 2007 to 2010, and Deputy Chairman of Space Science Affairs from 2011 to 2014. He has been Chairman of LAPAN since February 2014.

[ Jan. 21, 2015 ]