By ANCHALEE ARIYAKITCHAROEN
THE SUNDAY NATION
THE DEFENCE Ministry has no plan to buy “spy satellites” but only aims to co-invest in the reported military satellite project, a senior Defence official has clarified.
In an exclusive interview with Fact Hunters of Nation TV, General Porpol Maneerin, chairman of the Defence Technology Institute (DTI), a public organisation under the Defence Ministry, said it did not intend to buy the satellites. He was responding to criticism of the reported Bt91-billion deal with the US-based Theia Group Inc. “The company has just invited us to be master programme partners, or to put it simply, co-investment partners,” Porpol said.
The DTI had signed a letter of acknowledgement (LOA) with the company, he said. That meant it acknowledged the existing satellite project, was aware of the state-of-the-art technology and would study the benefits of the satellite network for Thailand. That is how foreign companies conducted their business: they invited prospective partners, briefed them about the project and drafted the minutes of the meeting, he said, adding that under the LOA, the DTI would jointly study the project, not buy the satellites.
The company does not manufacture satellites but is a group of experts who specialise in mineral and natural resource exploration by using aircraft and also specialise in underground water by using aeroplanes. They own many patents, so they are thinking about building a satellite for natural resource exploration.
Asked whether this was a military satellite – the report suggested it was a small, low-orbit satellite – Porpol explained that there were two types of satellites: one was for communication for which Thailand has the Thai Khom communication satellite. The second type is for Earth observation. This kind of satellite takes pictures and analyses them for exploration purposes. In Thailand, the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA), the space agency and space research organisation, have operated it, Porpol explained.
A military satellite has to incorporate both communication and exploration technology in order to get information for analysis, said Porpol.
Currently, Thailand uses satellites for national development as part of the 4.0 policy. The satellite is also used for developing the farm sector.
So the military satellite will not replace Thaicom satellite as some critics said because the new satellite will also take pictures in day and night times and then send those pictures for analysis, Porpol pointed out.
For military uses, the country needs to look along the border with neighbouring countries in the same way that authorities deploy CCTV cameras in cities or use drones equipped with cameras. The Theia satellite network has 112 satellites, which can take and send pictures from any part of the Earth in real time.
“The group of experts plan to create this satellite network for commercial and security purposes and they invited us to join. We have not yet talked about the investment and potential returns. We are studying how it will serve other ministries or organisations in Thailand,” said Porpol.
Porpol dismissed reports that Thailand would need to spend Bt91 billion on the project.
For the Theia satellite network project, many private companies are interested in investment opportunities and they could expect investment returns over 30 years. “Thailand was invited but the group must provide us a guarantee that the project will not lose money,” said Porpol.
“Thai people should not worry, as we will not use the very limited government budget for this investment. In fact total investment each year will not reach Bt90 billion and I think it is worth the investment as we could |harvest information and make use of it,” he added.