By Shirajiv Sirimane
Centuries ago, there was evidence to suggest that King Ravana of Sri Lanka used a wooden plane to fly across to India. However, since then, this amazing technology the Sri Lankans had was never heard of. During recent times, if someone said that Sri Lankans were to build an airplane, the world would have laughed it off. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa thought otherwise!
He did not want to build an airplane, but thought the country should own its own communication satellite and belong to an elite group of nations that own one.
The idea was spread across Sri Lanka and SupremeSAT positively responded to build Sri Lanka’s first communication satellite, with Chinese co-operations. Currently, only India (4) and Pakistan (1) have communication satellites in the region. Sri Lanka would own its own satellite by December 2015. Plans are also under way to have Sri Lankans trained and employed as astronauts for would be space missions in the future.
The agreement to build the first satellite would be signed next October in China and President Rajapaksa, who initiated this move, is expected to witness this groundbreaking event. The plan is to launch the satellite from Beijing and place it over Sri Lanka by December 2015.
The uplinks to the satellite would be from Kandy. Meanwhile SupremeSAT (Pvt) Ltd. signed the joint investment agreement with China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) and Sino Satellite Communications Company Ltd for the setting up of Sri Lanka’s first ever Space Academy within the Pallekele BOI Zone in Kandy on Tuesday.
Established in 1980, CGWIC is the sole commercial organisation authorised by the Chinese government to provide satellites and commercial launch services and to carry out international space cooperation.
The company has already signed nine contracts with international customers for the manufacture and in-orbit delivery of telecommunication satellites, of which four have been successfully launched into orbit, while the other two are set to be launched next year.
Apart from this, the company has launched many satellites for domestic purposes and has surpassed the US in the number of successful space launches in 2011.
The proposed Space Academy will consist of a state-of-the-art Satellite Ground Station which will provide on-the-job-training to Sri Lankans who will start to control the already co-branded satellites of SupremeSAT/Chinasatcom.
This would also be the first time that Sri Lankans from Sri Lanka would be uploading material to satellites. The signing of the agreement would see over US$ 60 million being pumped to Kandy, making it the biggest foreign-funded private sector investment in the Central Province. It is also the first Chinese investment made in the Central Province.
Chairman SupremeSAT R.M. Manivannan said that this investment would put the Central Province in the world investors’ map, helping to woo more foreign direct investments. “Initially, over 100 employment opportunities would be provided from this project,” he said.
This investment and the partnership with CGWIC demonstrate investor confidence on the post-war Sri Lankan economy. “Political stability supported by the favourable investment climate help entrepreneurs like us to reach space.
I am very glad that this venture coincides with the vision of the President to make Sri Lanka a Knowledge Hub,” said Manivannan.
“It would not only place Kandy on the world satellite map, but would also help take Sri Lanka closer towards the goal of becoming the Wonder of Asia,” he said.
Deputy Managing Director, China Great Wall Industry Corporation, Wang Zhongmin said they would start building the satellite next January. He said the idea of having a satellite for Sri Lanka was the brainchild of President Rajapaksa who spelt it out when he was in China recently.
The value of SuprmeSAT would be US$ 300 million and it would have three bands; X, C and KA and it would be the most powerful satellite with the highest number of channels in the region.Vice Minister of Industries and Information Technology of the People’s Republic of China Chen Qiufa who flew all the way from China to witness this groundbreaking event, said the space industry is an important intergrowth part of a country’s industrial system.
“Sri Lanka is at a very critical and historical stage, of devoting to the development of the national economy and strengthening the civilian construction. “It is of great significance for the Government of Sri Lanka to select the development of the space industry to promote or trigger the development and progress of the economy and social development.
“We are convinced that this action will bring true benefits to the people of Sri Lanka. As China is an old friend of Sri Lanka, it will always give full support to Sri Lanka in its development of science, technology and social progress.”
It must also be mentioned that this is one of the quickest BOI projects to get off the ground since the signing of the agreement in May.
Sri Lanka, a small island nation, by end-2015 would be able to boast of five international harbours, two international airports, two expressways, seven-star hotels via Shangri-La while also owing the most powerful communication satellite in the region, taking the country closer to become the Wonder of Asia.