ATSB has been given the mandate to develop satellites with primary focus in research and development employing advanced and innovative technologies in space industry.
Y. Bhg Dato’ Dr Ahmad Sabirin Arshad
CEO, Astronautic Technology (M) Sdn Bhd, Malaysia
What is the mandate of ATSB?
ATSB has been given the mandate to develop satellites with primary focus in research and development employing advanced and innovative technologies in space industry. There is huge potential in the industry to be tapped, more remote sensing satellites to be built similar to the steps taken by other leading countries. It is my vision to see satellite images to be procured for developing various geospatial applications. We have to make it relevant to the people.
How is the awareness level in the utilisation of remote sensing imagery in Malaysia?
The awareness for the application of remote sensing imagery has been made through various media. Nevertheless, it has not been fully capitalised as a tool for decision making. Satellite images are seen to be linked only for educational purposes. Challenges to ensure that the procedure, policies and regulations are in accordance may limit the full potential usage of the information. Significant improvement needs to be made with opportunity for relevant companies to be established in order to commercialise this sector. Both upstream and downstream activities are required to make the industry flourish. Continuous efforts need to be made to accept the synergies and utilise the same effectively. Efforts to create awareness are on. It is important to have a good branding of the regional images captured.
What is the mechanism through which satellite imagery is made available to the public in Malaysia?
Anyone who wants to purchase the imagery must buy through Malaysian Remote Sensing Agency. They can still buy through the Internet. I would like to see liberalisation. It is important to open up from one central agency to many centralised agencies. This is a bottleneck. If we open up this bottleneck, we can see increase the uptake of imagery. There are a few factors that affect the availability of good images in the region though. Firstly, the cloud cover issue. Most of the countries on the equator experience heavy rain and clouds. When we launched RazakSAT into the equatorial orbit, the main challenge of image processing was the cloud cover. We are trying to evolve a mechanism where we can capture images of particular areas without cloud cover. It is still a challenge. There are suggestions that we should go for radar. But multispectral and radar have different set of applications.
Can imagery of Malaysian satellites be sold and used by people outside the country?
It is still in the discussion stage at the government level because we have a central agency responsible for this. Once the ownership of the images has been identified, we can serve the customers better, locally and internationally. The images should be made available for the decision makers as and when they require them. For example, if there is a natural disaster such as flood, the images of flood should be made available to the decision makers immediately. These are very important to forecast the floods and if there any landslides triggered.
How is the response to RazakSAT products? What are the future plans?
The response is overwhelming. The only challenge is the commercialisation of the imagery so that there is a return on investment. As an organisation, we need to be profit oriented with sustainable resources hence return of investment is very important. We are currently progressing with RazakSAT-2 programme. We do not want to repeat what has already been done. So, we are thinking innovative for this project. Just to share with the readers, 10 years ago, people thought RazakSAT was a crazy idea irrelevant to the market conditions at the time. But we have the distinction of building the world’s first remote sensing satellite launched into the NEqO.
Satellites apart, we have built tsunami early warning system. Earthquake is complex to predict and is not well understood. Ocean earthquake is another intricate situation to understand with further analysis to be made in the area. Using geospatial data, we are able to detect the tsunami. We are playing an active role in the government committees and discussion groups. We have always been giving advice to the ministries in terms of opinion, monitoring, executing and directing as what needs to be done for the betterment of the society and how space can be of use. India is a good example in this aspect. The debate on the current situation and expanding in space as the future investment to be made by the government require an in-depth thought should we want to place Malaysia as a developed nation. Also, space is predominantly an international market. We should start looking internationally now. ATSB’s mission is to place itself among the top 10 players in the world by 2020 and we look forward in generating growth revenue in the international scene.