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SSTA President Outlines Singapore Space Initiatives

By Mark Holmes | June 21, 2010
      [Satellite News 06-21-10] The Singapore Space and Technology Association (SSTA) will play a key role in advancing satellite technology in one of Asia’s most media savvy markets. One of the key challenges for the SSTA is to bring new young talent to the space industry. Satellite News spoke to Jonathan Hung, president of the SSTA, about the potential for satellite and space technologies in Singapore and what the SSTA is doing to make sure these technologies stay prominent on the media landscape.

      SATELLITE NEWS: What is the SSTA doing to engage young minds in Singapore and attract them to the space industry?

      Talent development is a key pillar for the association. We strongly believe that is where our next generation of engineers will come from, and a healthy pipeline of motivated talent is the key to a sustainable space industry in Singapore and the region. In recent years, we have started to organize various initiatives surrounding our education thrust. A key program that we organize is the national space design competition: the Singapore Space Challenge, where students design and develop space related hardware or software depending on competition parameters.
          The SSTA also conducts relevant seminars where various local and international space companies talk to students and faculty. We also stage an annual space technology convention, and we open this up to student participation. With over 30 international C-Suite speakers speaking at this convention, students are given the opportunity to engage with the global industry. In essence, it is a one-stop-shop location for space-aspiring students in Singapore. The SSTA is also responsible for organising industry networking events where students get the chance to engage decision-makers and explore career opportunities. We are also launching our space training program this June: Space Academy Singapore. This training camp is for students and engineers of all ages. This initiative is co-organized by SSTA and Trivector International (NASA Consultants) and hosted by the Science Centre Singapore.

      SATELLITE NEWS: Is it difficult to excite young minds about working in the space industry?

      Hung: We definitely agree that it is a challenge to excite young minds in our industry. We have to show them that the space industry has exciting opportunities. The recent economic crisis impacted many sectors, and space was similarly affected. Although the space industry might have longer gestation periods than other mainstream sectors, it is based on very strategic and real needs. It is a resilient sector, not one that will come and go overnight. This is a key message we want to leave with this generation’s youth.
          We are actually seeing an increase in serious student interest to be part of the space industry due to the Asian growth story involving new and expanding Asian space companies. The challenge sometimes is the lack of industry exposure. Exposure in terms of the myriad landscape of career opportunities also means we need to be educating the teachers. They are at the frontline and are the ones that continually interface with students. We have to excite the teachers to ensure they excite young people.

      SATELLITE NEWS: What are some examples of what the SSTA is doing in terms of education?

      Hung: Over the last three years, we have been conducting the Singapore Space Challenge (SSC). This is an engineering/design competition. The aim of the competition is to deepen students’ knowledge in terms of space concepts and engineering. It is a full nine-month-long program co-developed with industry partners and government agencies. The participating students range from 16 years old all the way to university. We do require our industry partners to train students in relevant software pertaining to the competition’s parameters. Students go through intensive sessions to get them up to speed with subjects like high-end engineering software, for example. We also encourage our industry partners to provide various levels of support, consultancy, and advice students how best to navigate their projects. Last year, students worked with software developer, AGI, and this year, our partner was Dassault Systemes. Throughout the SSC duration, we also arrange site visits for students to space companies. As you can see, the SSC is a very holistic competition that blends academics, practical applications and industry exposure.
          A second project to highlight is our Space Academy, being launched this June. This is Singapore’s first ever space training initiative. It is a very rigorous four-day program. We are working with NASA consultants and instructors with over 20 years of experience each. The curriculum follows astronaut candidate selection in a summarized way and puts students through intense academic components mixed with practical, hands-on sessions. Only 50, high-caliber participants are taken in each camp. The upcoming camp will also have a special feature: NASA’s previous Administrator, Michael Griffin, will be in Singapore as a guest speaker to camp participants. We are looking forward to him inspiring our youth.

      SATELLITE NEWS: How does these approaches differ at the school level and the university level?

      Hung: Dealing with kids from school and university differs a lot. For school kids, we try and show them new breakthroughs in aerospace/space and sciences in general. It really is constant exposure to new, innovative concepts to keep them fired up. It is also essential to get them interested in science at a young age. That’s when first impressions certainly do count. At the university level, the goal is really to encourage students to stay in this field and showcase that one can pursue a good, fulfilling career in the space industry We also recognize that today’s students are very pragmatic. Most of them are looking for good career opportunities and challenging work environments. We need to show them that space is and will always be the highest echelon of science, and being in the space industry means you’ve peaked in science and technology. It’s that coveted feeling we want to instil in our aspiring engineers.
          As far as possible, all our programs and competitions are very much tied in with industry to immerse them in the real thing. Students need to see that it’s as real as it gets out there, and only the brightest will succeed in space. Conversely, the industry’s job is to support them and remain proactive in exciting these university students. Maybe provide internships, maybe training/R&D stints at their corporate headquarters. These are some thoughts we try to seed with industry. Essentially, this interface between the corporate landscape of space is something we want to bring to the universities.

      SATELLITE NEWS: With Internet technologies proving attractive to younger generation, how can you attract the YouTube generation to space?

      Hung: We do acknowledge that the online platforms publicly available are not fully leveraged on by the association, however, in terms of public outreach, the SSTA is making a two-part, 1-hour space documentary showcasing Singapore’s journey into space. The goal is for this to air on local and regional channels, reaching to the masses. Moving forward, our PR and marketing efforts will definitely leverage on new media, such as Facebook, Twitter and the like. SSTA’s public outreach team has got to keep up with information technology. Intensifying media coverage of our events has also led to greater mindshare amongst students, as many media companies post their reports on Web sites and various internet portals, easily accessible by Web-savvy youth. At the end of this year, we hope to revamp our Web site to allow greater interactivity.

      SATELLITE NEWS: What are the major challenges for the Singapore Space and Technology Association in this area?

      Hung: The biggest challenge is that we cannot do all of the above alone. We need to continually integrate and align our efforts with industry. Fortunately, we do have a strong core base of corporate members in the association who strongly supports our efforts to inspire the next generation of talent. We need to continue to move with the times, coming up with more creative and exciting ways to engage tomorrow’s kids as they grow up in the information age. So there really are these two aspects the SSTA is committed to — keeping industry heavily involved and being creative when we engage young minds. Hopefully, we succeed in both.