Remote Indonesian Island Reaches for Stars by Playing Host to Space Center

By webadmin on 01:56 am Aug 07, 2010
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Ismira Lutfia

Indonesia. The space agency this week moved a step forward in its plans to build an integrated space center on an island off the southwestern coast of Bengkulu province.

Adi Sadewo Salatun, the head of the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan), said the center would be built on Enggano Island in the Indian Ocean.

He was speaking at the signing of a memorandum of understanding at the Lapan-Bengkulu provincial administration office.

Adi said the island, in the outermost reaches of the archipelago, was the perfect spot for the country’s launch pad because of its low population and remoteness.

“None of the neighboring provinces will be disturbed by our activities there,” he said.

Adi said the site of the existing rocket launch site in Pameungpeuk, West Java, had become crowded and was no longer suitable for launching rockets bigger than the last one sent skyward, the RX-420.

Given the island’s location, 110 nautical miles from the provincial capital of Bengkulu city, Adi said he was confident the project would not attract new settlers.

“This is a lesson that we learned from the Pameungpeuk site, which was sparsely populated when first set up but attracted settlers after it became established,” he said.

M Nashsyah, the head of the Bengkulu Regional Planning Agency, said the administration welcomed Lapan’s decision, adding the center would have a positive impact for the locals, especially in terms of technological development.

He said that in future, other countries might use Indonesian rockets to put their satellites into orbit. “It will make the island’s and the province’s names known to the world,” Nashsyah said.

He claimed the noise generated from spaceport activities would not disrupt the island’s 2,500 locals because the 200-hectare site was far from residential neighborhoods.

Adi added that the center would have quake-proof buildings and be built in an area of the island that was shielded from the danger of being swept by a tsunami. Enggano Island sits on one of the world’s most active fault lines, where tremors and sometimes quakes are common. They are caused by the grinding of the Indo-Australia plate against the Eurasia plate.

Adi said the plan was also in line with Lapan’s program to launch satellite-deploying rockets from 2012 to 2014.

Lapan launched the unmanned RX-420 in July last year from the Pameungpeuk site after it carried out a stationary test on the rocket in December 2008. The agency also launched two smaller RX-320 rockets in 2008. 

The next rocket, the RX-550, is scheduled to be launched in 2012 and it will undergo static tests this year and in 2011.

Pos M Hutabarat, the head of research and development at the Ministry of Defense, said the space center, initially intended for civilian purposes, would be useful for the military in the future.

“We could use it for missile defense exercises and testing ballistic missiles with a distance of over 20 kilometers,” he said.

Pos said such projectiles could be aimed toward the neighboring Mega Island, located further northwest from Enggano, to see the effects of the missiles’ explosions.

He said the military had had trouble finding a remote area that was large enough to carry out ballistic missile tests over more than 20 km.

Adi said work on the site would start next year, with a start-up budget of about Rp 20 billion ($2.24 million) to build the launch pad and prepare it for the RX-550 suborbital test flight in 2012.

“But the construction will continue gradually to develop it into an integrated spaceport,” he said. “But for the first launch pad we only need a space no bigger than the size of a football field.”

By 2014, Lapan expects it will be able to launch the polar orbital flights of the RX-550 and RX-420 rockets from the new center.

Nashsyah said the regional administration would conduct a feasibility study, including an environmental impact analysis, before construction began.

“The Enggano Island spaceport will be one of the few satellite launch pads located along the equator,” he said.