Jakarta, Indonesia — Indonesia aims to launch 19 satellites into low-Earth orbit next year, part of an ambitious plan to move the country into the forefront of the world’s growing space industry and reduce its reliance on other countries for its satellite data.

The broader program, known as the 2045 space map, is set to begin next year. Officials hope to boost Indonesia’s economy and drive foreign direct investment by leveraging its unique geography as a near-equatorial, fuel-efficient launch point for space travel and research.

While the satellite launches would support key economic sectors such as agriculture and mining with remote-sensing technology to track weather patterns, mining emissions and mineral-rich areas, the longer-term plan includes development of a leading-edge spaceport to reduce reliance on foreign launch sites.

But according to officials at BRIN, Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency, there’s still no confirmation of which company or government agencies would be responsible for the spate of launches planned for 2025.

“The main constraint was the government’s financial planning and budget cuts. We also couldn’t clinch foreign investment partners to join in developing the spaceport because it is high technology and high cost,” said BRIN researcher Thomas Djamalludin.

Starlink, SpaceX and Elon Musk

Jakarta has relied on Elon Musk’s SpaceX for launching its satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida, since 2019, and the billionaire entrepreneur last month launched a Starlink internet services satellite directly from Bali.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has repeatedly invited Musk to use the Papuan province island of Biak as a primary Starlink launch site, which has drawn outrage from locals who say developing the island as a spaceport will devastate its fragile ecology.

Although Biak has an airstrip, military base, deep-water seaport and ground stations, the 500 hectares (1.9 square miles) of government-owned land suitable for the spaceport would require foreign investment to cover the preliminary $613 million required to build the initial phase of the project. The total cost is dependent on what additional facilities investors want to build at the space port.

Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, said that Starlink is mulling the offer but that there are no immediate plans for collaboration.

According to Djamalludin of BRIN, China, which has dominated Indonesia’s 5G market and is on track to be the nation’s largest foreign investor, had expressed interest. However, a catastrophic April 2020 rocket launch that destroyed Indonesia’s $220 million Nusantara-2 satellite has complicated Jakarta’s relationship with China’s state-owned China Great Wall Industry Corporation.

Beijing has since dialed back its financial interests, declaring the Biak location too distant, while Jakarta has doubled down on wooing SpaceX for the upcoming launches, deeming the company more reliable, offering more time slots and cheaper reusable rockets.

Indonesia’s director of investment promotion at the Investment Coordinating Board, Saribua Siahaan, told VOA that Jakarta continues offering financial incentives, along with an easy investment permitting process for public-private partnerships.

No takers in 2023

As recently as 2023, BRIN officials promoted their spaceport plans at the G20 Space Economy Leaders’ Meeting and Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum. China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and India were invited as potential partners, but none signed on.

“Despite the 2013 Space Law having been in effect for nearly a decade, [Indonesia’s] government has yet to finalize implementing regulations for commercialization of space and spaceport development,” said Indonesian space-law scholars Ridha Aditya Nugraha and Yaries Mahardika Putro in a recent Jakarta Post op-ed.

Indonesia was the first country in ASEAN to enforce national space legislation. The 2013 Space law provides a legal framework regarding outer space, and it lays the foundation for space industry growth.

Foreign direct investment in space activities brings legal certainty that can attract investors. In the past decade, though, implementation of regulations has not occurred and that has made it difficult for the related ministeries to make Indonesia a space-faring country.

“This must be resolved immediately if Indonesia is serious about making outer space a revenue center and the driver of the economy in the future,” the op-ed said.