Thailand aims to build its own Earth observation satellite in the next four years, says the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Gistda).
The ambitious goal was announced after the recent delivery of the Thailand Earth Observation Satellite (THEOS)-2A, which a team of domestic engineers helped to design and develop along with UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology. The satellite will be tested at Gistda's facility in Chon Buri for six months before it is sent into orbit next year.
"Based on the facilities and knowledge that we have, we have the capacity to produce a small satellite which can be used for commercial purposes in the future,'' said Likhit Waranon, Gistda's project manager of THEOS-2A.
"Our goal is to develop the first satellite made in Thailand by a Thai team, proving our literacy in space technology development in the region,'' he said.
Thailand had its first THEOS, known as Thaichote, developed by the France-based EADS Astrium, in 2008. It has been used to monitor natural resources for 14 years. THEOS-2A is part of the THEOS-2 project. It is the pride of 22 Thai engineers at Gistda who took part in the project since it started in 2019.
Mr Likhit said THEOS-2A can provide precise satellite images so it will be useful for disaster and natural resources management. The satellite, weighing about 100 kilogrammes, is equipped with sensors, cameras and other high-tech equipment. It can capture high-resolution images of the Earth, with up to one metre per pixel, meaning it can capture cars on the road.
It will work with a main THEOS-2 satellite weighing 460kg for greater accuracy and efficiency in terms of satellite image results, he said.
He said the government has already invested 7.8 billion baht in the country's second THEOS-2 satellite project, including a National Satellite Assembly, Integration and Test Centre (AIT) in Chon Buri.
The centre could test the efficiency of small satellites, including vibration and thermal vacuum tests, before launching them into orbit. The government has also set aside a budget of 700 million baht for Gistda to build satellite projects to boost the economy. It will be a four-year fund (2023-2026) allowing Gistda to increase human resources in space technology and strengthen partnerships to improve efficiency in producing space technology and creating a satellite.
"We expect to develop a satellite to capture near-infrared data which will be useful for commercial purposes, such as for estimating crop yields for large-scale farming. We expect to complete the project within 2026," Mr Likhit said.
Chidchanok Chaichuenchob, one of the engineers on the Thai team working with UK counterparts to produce the THEOS-2A satellite, said the experience helped her in developing knowledge and skills for space technology.
"I am very proud to be a part of this project. I'm even prouder to be able to use parts produced by a Thai company for the satellite. This is proof that products made in Thailand are effective enough to work in space. We hope we can create our own satellite using local materials in the future," she said.
Phat Jotikabukkana, a system engineer for THEOS-2A, said the satellite project was good for sustainable development. "We can do more if there is support from the government,'' he said. He said small satellites are a growing business with high market potential.