Indonesia is set to have more eyes in its skies with the launch of the Lapan A2 satellite to monitor traffic across its vast maritime expanses.
The satellite, weighing 78 kilograms, was designed, assembled and tested in-house by the Institute for Aeronautics and Space (Lapan) and will be the nation’s first satellite running in an equatorial orbit that is equipped with an automated remote-sensing system.
Suhermanto, chief of Lapan’s Satellite Technology Center, said the satellite would be launched in mid-2013, piggybacking on India’s PSLV-C23 rocket from its base in Sriharikota, India.
“The Lapan A2 satellite will run in an equatorial orbit so it will pass over Indonesia up to 15 times a day,” Suhermanto said on Friday at a press conference at the center’s facilities in Rancabungur, Bogor.
The frequency at which the Lapan A2 will pass over Indonesian territory is a significant increase from the Lapan Tubsat. That satellite was launched in 2007 and runs on a polar orbit, meaning it can only pass over Indonesia two to three times a day, a rate far from sufficient to monitor the nation’s seas, which are prone to illegal fishing and poaching, and the transit of vessels used for transnational crimes.
Lapan had previously expected that the satellite would be launched in 2011, but Suhermanto said the plan had to be put on hold pending completion of India’s Astrosat satellite, which will be the rocket launcher’s main cargo.
“We have completed developing the Lapan A2 and in the meantime, it will undergo regular maintenance before we send it to India for its launch in the second quarter of 2013,” Suhermanto said.
However, he couldn’t specify the launch date, saying it would depend on many other factors such as the weather.
The satellite’s remote sensing device, the Automatic Identification System, will be able to tag a maximum of 2,000 ships in a single coverage area and it will be able to identify the ships’ positions, speeds, destinations and specifications in Indonesian waters.
The satellite will orbit at a height of 650 kilometers, from which it will be able to detect transmissions from ships located within a more than 100-kilometer radius.
“This identification system is used mainly by commercial vessels and it would be complementary to our existing maritime surveillance system,” said Heru Triharjanto, a scientist at Lapan’s satellite center.
Heru added that with data gathered from the monitoring system, the Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, as the agency authorized to issue licenses for fishing vessels, would be able to quickly distinguish those vessels with valid permits from those operating illegally.
“Our main concern is that we would be able to safeguard the country’s interests with the data yielded,” Suhermanto said.
Apart from its monitoring ability, the satellite will be useful for disaster mitigation and communications.
“We can use this satellite for amateur radio communications through which we would be able to send text messages as well since it will be equipped with a repeater device for text messaging,” Heru said.
“Journalists would be able to send their stories from disaster areas through this satellite,” he added.
The project to develop the satellite was a follow-up to Lapan’s successful launch of the Tubsat satellite, which was made and designed in Germany.
“We set a goal to develop our own satellite and we came up with programs with specific targets to master this satellite technology,” Suhermanto said.
The Lapan A2 satellite project was approved in 2008 and the institute began assembling it in 2010.
“We had to import most of the components because we don’t yet have a sufficient upstream industry for electronics parts to support the program,” Heru said.
Heru said the satellite underwent several tests before being declared spaceworthy by Lapan and the project’s supervisor from a German institution.
Lapan has set a timeline to further develop Indonesia’s satellite technology capabilities.
“We aim to go operational with our own satellite technology beyond 2015,” Suhermanto said.