Erle Frayne D. Argonza
Magandang araw! Good day, most especially to fellow Southeast Asians!
For this piece I’m going to focus on the theme of an ASEAN-wide rocket industry-based aerospace program. ASEAN is about to integrate economically by 2015, so may the member states put in the list of agenda for action the launching of a regional aerospace program.
As the region’s member countries grow at immense rates, the middle class of the region will likewise grow that will serve as its sustaining consumption base. A large middle class will mean a higher demand for telecommunications infrastructures that will, in the main, depend on satellite and related facilities.
So, instead of each member country trying to outdo each other by launching their respective rocket industry-based aerospace programs, the countries better sit down together within the aegis of an ASEAN economic union, concur a binding agreement regarding the launching of an ASEAN aerospace program, and fund the entire program internally from ASEAN resources.
With an ASEAN central bank in place by 2015, it wouldn’t be so difficult to generate funds internally for all sorts of grand projects from infrastructures to aerospace. An ASEAN development bank would then be securitized by the central bank and allocate funds for the aerospace program.
Malaysia today is in the stage of research & development for a rocket industry and has begun training & development for its technical experts. It may be prudent for the ASEAN to assign to Malaysia a lead role in orchestrating the ASEAN aerospace, with the quid pro quo of compensating Malaysia for lending its expertise and certain aspects of the backward linkages for the future industry.
The aerospace program would largely be used to launch satellites and only secondarily for space research & development. The space R & D can come later, maybe at a time when the ASEAN will be prepared for political unification in the long run.
With a satellite industry in place, the ASEAN can then compete with other market stakeholders (countries & regions with satellite industry) to supply and launch the satellites of other developing countries. Project costs can be cut down at the satellite production phase, thus bringing down prices of ready-to-launch satellites and ensuring patronage by many developing countries.
All of the essential components—at the backward linkages—of satellite production are now present as running industries in the region. From metallurgy to computer software & hardware, name it and the region has it. Hence the viability of satellite industry is very high enough.
It is in the domain of rockets that the ASEAN would need to co-partner with other countries at the production phase. It can be an option for ASEAN to co-partner with Russia that can supply the rockets that will launch ASEAN’s satellites. China and India are other options also for supplying the rockets.
However, in the long run the economic union should work out to establish a strong rocket industry for itself. The rocket industry can spin off into a more comprehensive program later, one that can be extended to launching R & D in other planets and their respective moons, space tourism, and sending missions beyond the solar system.
Rocket technology can also be modified so as to integrate it into the mining industry, so that in the long term ASEAN can mine for metals in other celestial bodies. Environmental standards are getting to be stricter by the year, standards that can constrain the extraction of rare & precious metals regionally, so the alternative in such a context would be to mine for the metals in other celestial bodies.
The aerospace program is one developmental area that will prove the potency of a regional approach to launching it contrasted to country-initiated approach. Given the gargantuan level of funding that a rocket industry cum satellite industry will entail, funding that a member country will be hard put to supply, then regionalize the program altogether to circumvent country constraints.
[Philippines, 07 November 2010]
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