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Story & photo by Stephanie Tumampos
A projected captured market of $1.5 billion in the next 10 years is seen in aerospace, satellite manufacturing and launching once the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) is established.
Executive Director Enrico Paringit of the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD) expressed optimism that having a space agency would contribute to the country’s growth and nation-building.
Paringit also projected a 0.57 percent GDP share in 2022 and over new 2,200 direct employment once PhilSA is established. The bill creating the country’s space agency is being discussed in Congress.
Upstream and downstream business
Paringit said during DOST-PCIEERD’s Business Forum on Space Science and Technology this past week that the contribution of the setting up of PhilSA to the country’s economy is a combination of the upstream and downstream market.
“The thrust of the upstream market is to be able to provide us with the technology like the fabrication of space components,” Paringit said. He explained that fabrication of components and parts can be done in the country.
“We cannot be importing these all the time because of import restrictions or supply,” he added.
Local companies can build space-grade components and can spawn an industry that can provide more jobs for Filipinos.
These space technology components must pass certain requirements, such as vibration tests and thermal tests, to ensure that technologies put up in space will be durable enough for the harsh space environment.
“We can go to local companies and ask them if they can manufacture space technology parts or build a component for a satellite. This is the kind of ecosystem we want,” Paringit told the BusinessMirror.
For the downstream part, Paringit sees a change of the Filipino talent landscape and opportunities because of the amount of data satellites this can produce for the country.
“We will have a lot of data engineers and data scientists who will be working for these datasets not only for the Philippines, but of course, for the rest of the world,” he explained.
Paringit highlights that having more skilled Filipino data scientists and engineers working on data analytics can ultimately be the next business-process outsourcing in the Philippines. “Instead of voice and technical support, this could be your data scientist working on analysing the patters of the migration of birds of some countries or patters of urbanization in some places.”
Commitment of industries
Paringit told the BusinessMirror: “If we have the space agency, we can come up with the right policies and, possibly, incentives where we could incentivize the adoption of space technologies so that they can be supported and protected while it is growing.”
Some industries have already expressed their commitments toward the services they could offer in support of the establishment of PhilSA.
Semiconductor and Electronics Industries of the Philippines Inc. President Dan Lachica told the BusinessMirror that the industry supports the initiatives of the government, including the establishment of a national space agency.
“We want to support inclusive employment and sustainable growth so this is a potential we see that could be good for the country,” Lachica said.
In 2017 alone, the semiconductor industry in the country had a total export of $32.7 billion, and with a new space electronics sector in their field could contribute to sales.
While saying that “it’s not a step function right away,” Lachica noted that the fabrication of space-grade components will be a new sector for the semiconductor and electronic industry that would spur growth.
He explained: “Although some of the things we’ve built already like telescopes, controllers, telecommunication equipment can be used [in building space-related machines], I think the sophistication of what’s required in space would [need] another level of R&D and complexity.”
To see a significant growth, companies must demonstrate capabilities, certification and qualification before they land an order locally or from other countries that would pass the demands of space environment.
Lachica said it is definitely exciting to have this kind of industry, especially with a national space agency on the way to support local manufacturers, but “I don’t think we’re taking incremental steps.”
According to Lachica, investments and trial period are required to demonstrate the country’s capability before one can actually say that we have a legitimate space industry, such as a space electronics sector.
“In an area like this, with microsatellites, we need to sit down with [the] DOST, look where we at today and see what it needs to be done, what is our end goal and by doing that, we can define the specific milestones that we need to accomplish,” Lachica said.
Race against time
Although legislators at the House of Representatives have already passed the House Bill (HB) 8541, or the proposed Philippine Space Act on December 4 last year with a unanimous vote on its third and final reading, the country’s dream to establish a national space agency still hangs as the Senate is still having its own deliberation.
On Monday, February 4, the Senate will still have its second reading on the Senate Bill 1211 principally sponsored by Sen. Bam Aquino, and it would need another third reading. The Senate has only two more sessions left before a break for the election period.
Also, according to Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña, the House and Senate bills have different versions. The HB states that the PhilSA will be under the wing of the DOST, while the Senate emphasizes that the PhilSA will be under the Office of the President.
“Of course we need a unified version and the bicam [Bicameral Conference Committee] needs to be finished in a day,” de la Peña explained.
But the DOST executive said he is ready for anything. “Good or bad, as long as we have exerted all our efforts, it is fine with me.” But of course, he expressed that whatever version the law takes, “as long as it will be finished and the space agency will be created, I am all for it.”
De la Peña, however, wishes that the Senate would be able to finish the deliberations of the bill, “otherwise, we will wait again for another cycle of new lawmakers next year and present again the bill.”
In the meantime, despite the absence of the law creating PhilSA, the DOST and University of the Philippines (UP) are already building the foundation of the human resources to sustain the future of the country’s space program.
De la Peña told the Coffee Club of BusinessMirror and Aliw Media Group on Wednesday that eight scholars are already accepted in UP to train in the making of Diwata-3 microsatellite.
Set to finish within 2019, de la Peña said that unlike Diwata-1 and 2 which were made by Filipino and Japanese scientists in Japan, Diwata-3 will be fully “made in the Philippines.”
The Space Technology and Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement (Stamina4Space) Program clarified that the eight scholars who were accepted in UP under the Master of Science/Master of Engineering in Electrical Engineering (Nanosatellite Engineering Track) will be trained to build cube satellites.
Stamina4Space Program added that the development of Diwata-3 will be under the DOST Program, implemented by UP Diliman, in collaboration with the DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute, among others.
Image credits: Stephanie Tumampos