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To acquire national satellite capabilities from top British company
Lanka joins ‘space race’
Sri Lanka Space Agency to be established, first satellite to be named after Sir Arthur C Clarke

Sri Lanka will soon establish the Sri Lanka Space Agency (SLASA) and has signed an MoU with an English company to launch its first geostationary satellite to be named after an internationally renowned physicist and visionary who made Sri Lanka his home, the late Sir Arthur C Clarke.

After obtaining Cabinet approval, the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to acquire National Satellite Capabilities in November with Surrey Satellite Company Limited, a commercial entity of the University of Surrey, UK.

"We are making the formal announcement of Sri Lanka’s space programme today because it is the 92nd birthday of the late Sir Arthur C Clarke. The Government has decided to name the first satellite after him," TRC director-general Priyantha Kariyapperuma told journalists yesterday.

Kariyapperuma said SLASA would be established soon with top academics appointed to its posts.

He said outstanding university graduates would be trained in satellite technology and satellite telecommunication technologies.

"The diaspora can help in this endeavour. There are around 150 Sri Lankans in the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)," he said.

According to Kariyapperuma, Surrey Satellite has already built more than 30 space satellites some of them for Malaysia, South Korea and Nigeria.

He said the cost of a geostationary satellite would range between US$100 million to US$150 million.

The establishment of SLASA was mooted two years ago, Kariyapperuma said.

"We hope to finalise the establishment of SLASA during the first half of next year," he said.

Kariyapperuma said the TRC would spearhead efforts to launch Sri Lanka’s first satellite but stressed it would be a commercial venture with the private sector invited to invest.

Other space agencies, notable from the US, Japan and India, would be approached for technical expertise and collaboration.

Last May, Kariyapperuma spoke to the Island Financial Review about this space programme. Some blog sites picked up the story and there were comments to suggest the whole thing was a joke. But the government is serious about Sri Lanka’s space programme.

"We are looking at launching two communication satellites. One is a lower earth orbit satellite used mainly for images. The other project would be to launch a geo stationary communication satellite. Both these projects will run simultaneously," Kariyapperuma said in that interview (see Island Financial Review of May 07, 2009).

The two satellites will be used not only for communication purposes but also for disaster management, agriculture planning, irrigation planning, town/urban planning and coastal conservation.

"We hope to embark on these two projects by this year. However, the focus of the government right now is to stabilise the North and East so we have not worked out a tentative schedule as yet," Kariyapperuma said, but now it seems the project proper would commence in 2010.

He said the low earth orbiting satellite could be financed with domestic funds particularly from the Telecommunication Development Fund. The private sector will also be called to contribute to the development of the two satellites.

Kariyapperuma said space is cluttered with over 6,000 satellites. According to international conventions, each country is entitled to about two blocks of 70 sq km for geostationary satellites.

"We are entering (the space race) late and there is no telling whether satellites already occupy our space, but once we produce our own satellite the space would be vacated," he said.

Promotional material of Surrey Satellite says low cost satellites can be developed and launched within a 18-month period.

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