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Local space venture gears up for first rocket launch

By Patricia B. Mirasol

Orbital Exploration Technologies, Inc. (OrbitX), the country’s first commercial space venture, is targeting 2023–2024 for its first launch. Its rocket, the Haribon SLS-1, will be propelled by two of the company’s other innovations: the Tamaraw Rocket Engine and RP-2 fuel, a renewable rocket fuel derived from plastics. 

Haribon SLS-1 is in Technology Readiness Level 4, or the level in which components are validated in a laboratory environment, and can carry approximately 200 kilograms in low earth orbit (an orbit with altitude ranging from 200–300 kilometers to 1,600 kilometers).

SPACE ACCESS BENEFITS LIFE ON EARTH

Sustaining earth and accessing space are two of the problems OrbitX tackles. Founded in 2019, the venture aims to be a major provider of affordable, green, and sustainable space access to developing countries while taking care of the environment. Its founder and chief executive officer, Dexter Baño Jr., said that the benefits of outer space ventures are here on terra firma. 

“The real benefit of having access to space is all on earth. Having access to space would allow us to attain better telecommunications, defense technologies, geopositioning services, and meteorological technologies,” he said in an interview with BusinessWorld. “For example, cancer research and farming could be improved if we have access to space. We can also protect our security as a nation because of better defense infrastructures that are only possible in space.”

Space science can help fight cancer by allowing researchers to study cell behavior that’s normally masked by responses to gravity. The gravity experienced in low-earth orbit, for instance, is 10,000 to one million times less powerful than that felt on earth’s surface. In microgravity, cells can be studied “in a state more closely resembling cells in the body.”

Other applications of space technology include: earth observation satellites that monitor greenhouse gases and possible natural calamities such as typhoons; global positioning system (GPS) navigation tools that allow for better mobility and prompt response during search and rescue missions; and microwaves and solar panels that started out as part of space projects but are now part of everyday living.

SEEKING SUPPORT AND COLLABORATION 

Funders of the deep-tech startup’s project include several private individuals and Genix Ventures, a firm focused on investing and accelerating early-stage technology companies in Southeast Asia. Amazon Web Services has also given it a product grant for research worth $6,500 for two years of use. 

A crowdfunding campaign is underway too for those who want to pitch in their support; the general public can choose among packages that include incentives such as a space ticket and an exclusive Haribon SLS-1 launch day seat.

While seeking support, OrbitX discovered that most of the interest came from Indians across Europe and Asia. One such supporter, Abhishek Raju, himself a space industry professional, paved the way for connecting the company with the Indian Space Research Organization. Mr. Baño Jr. said he will be meeting the Indian ambassador to the Philippines soon to discuss a possible diplomatic collaboration between the Philippines and India. 

“India is the most logical ally because, like the Philippines, they started at a very minimal budget to establish an extremely reliable space agency,” he added. “We have similarities in our socio-economic status as countries. We also have a knowledge economy like India, but we are not yet utilizing it properly.”

OrbitX sends the Philippine Space Agency regular updates on its project developments, although it is not affiliated with—nor has it received any funding from—the said agency.

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