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AsiaWednesday, November 2

Thailand's Aerospace Hopes

A young Thai engineer who studied in Japan is spearheading his country's efforts in the aerospace field.

The Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency is a 2-hour drive from Bangkok. Eight years ago, Thai aerospace scientists launched their first satellite from a base in Russia. It's designed for Earth observation in times of natural disasters. But the satellite was manufactured in France, so the government has started a project to develop its own satellites.

More than 50 countries around the world have satellites in orbit, and emerging economies are moving toward developing their own.

Lecturer Phongsatorn Saisutjarit, 35, heads the development team at a national technological university. They're working to fabricate a small satellite measuring about 10 centimeters per side. On commands from the ground, the satellite will capture digital images and transmit them to Earth.

Phongsatorn studied in Japan as a government-sponsored student for 16 years. At The University of Tokyo, he studied aerospace engineering under a leading figure in small satellite development.

"Many people used to think making satellites in Thailand was impossible," Saisutjarit says. "But I found out that even students can make them, so I started thinking that we'd be able to make them in Thailand when I came home."

Phongsatorn returned to Thailand 4 years ago to develop satellites, funding his own research. The researchers are moving their project forward one step at a time. They've been receiving support from the Thai government as well as Japan's space agency.

Phongsatorn's Japanese mentor, professor Shinichi Nakasuka, recently came to see him. Nakasuka advised Phongsatorn to design satellites capable of responding to any problem in space.

"I've seen some innovative measures, which made me feel that the researchers are doing well. I want Phongsatorn to be a pioneer, turning space development into a major industry in Thailand," Nakasuka says.

Transmitting images is a key role for extremely small satellites. The researchers conduct their first experiment on this and 30 seconds later, the test is a success. The team plans to eventually produce satellites in Thailand.

"It's not just satellites. Thailand has been relying on imports from other countries for various other technologies instead of developing their own. I want people to believe that Thais can even make satellites if they put their minds to it," Saisutjarit says.

The researchers are working to realize one of Thailand's dreams.