The importance of the National Space Agency

Chappy Hakim Air Force Chief of Staff (2002-2005), author of Tanah Air Udaraku Indonesia (“My Aerial Homeland, Indonesia”)

IO – If we discuss a vision of space, we cannot avoid talking about two essential institutions, the Aviation Council and the National Aviation and Space Agency (Lembaga Aviation dan Aeronautics Nasional – “LAPAN”) as our National Space Agency. One big reason why we lack achievement in aviation and aeronautics is because the Aviation Council and LAPAN have dimmed down and even “disappeared” from the scene. 

Development of Indonesian Aviation 

Indonesia’s aviation would actually be quite advanced if it had gone through its proper course. We established our Aviation Council in 1955, two years before the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik into outer space. This achievement caused America to panic and rush to establish its own National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”) in 1958. 

Amazingly, Indonesia as the world’s biggest archipelago already had an Aviation Council in 1955. But what were the duties of the Aviation Council? Why, simply to advise the Government in aviation issues and maintain daily coordination of aviation issues in Indonesia! Even better, Prof. Dr. Priyatna Abdurrasyid established the Air and Space Law Program in Padjadjaran University Faculty of Law in 1964, making Padjadjaran the first university in Asia with this educational major. Yet now, we barely even hear of these institutions here on the Motherland. 

I am merely bringing all these interesting facts as part of my reflection on how far the aeronautical vision of the Republic of Indonesia during the early years of the country has now dimmed so sadly. Now, in 2021 – more than 75 years since its establishment – the Aviation Council is long gone, and LAPAN, the official Government representative as its National Space Agency, is on its way to go where the Aviation Council has gone. And the main result is the lack of our beloved nation’s lack of success in commercial civil aviation. 

Development of Indonesia’s Aeronautics 

Air and space are the future of mankind. Even though aviation and aeronautics science and technology are “the new kid on the block” in terms of transportation technology, the speed of their development is fantastic. Even though it hasn’t been 120 years since the Wright Brothers launched the first airplane in 1903, people have gone to outer space and done many things. In fact, five International Space Stations (“ISS”). Four countries and an alliance of eleven countries (Canada, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States), and eleven Member States of the European Space Agency (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) cooperate in this effort – even though some of them were deadly enemies during the Cold War era (1947-1991). These advanced countries are fully aware that they need to cooperate in navigating the skies in order to be able to progress as the human race. 

We should note that our beloved Indonesia has large advantages for developing the potentials of our aeronautical technology: Our location, spread out along the Equator, our mountainous island territory, our thriving tourism, and the large number of our citizens. All these provide direct and indirect economic support for the development of our aeronautics in the global market.

Due to its advantageous geographic position and condition, there are many advantages when any country performs its aeronautical activities above or from Indonesia. As a simple example, in remote sensing technology relating to the positioning of a satellite to be orbited, Indonesia’s airspace is ideal for its operation. Also, when determining the location of a spaceport or cosmodrome for use as the launchpad for a spaceship and/or satellite-bearing rocket, Indonesia is an ideal location in terms of efficient operations. In short, the international aeronautical community sees and acknowledges our potentials in aeronautical processes, especially for commercial civil uses. 

Indonesia itself has witnessed the creation of startups based on a futuristic vision of our younger generation on aeronautics. They are ready to develop our economy through domestic aeronautics. Investors from advanced countries have also started to come to Indonesia and put their monies in these businesses. 

Unfortunately, these foreign investors will soon find a great obstacle to their intent of developing their business in Indonesia: They will be hard-pressed to find Indonesian work partners with the authority to represent the Government in aeronautical processing and management. 

As in aviation, wherein the Government has an institution to represent it as a national aviation authority according to global governance standards (the Ministry of Transportation), it still needs a Space agency as an authority that represents the Government in aeronautical management. This is extremely necessary, as aeronautics is a high-tech field that requires large finances, stringent rules, long-term planning, and competent HR. With the “evaporation” of LAPAN which has been globally known for decades as the National Space Agency that represents the RI Government into the ether, we have unknowingly lost our global representation and the global aeronautics community has been deprived of its possible economic and defense work partner in Indonesia. 

It is an interesting topic that we all should pay attention to. We need to remember that our founding fathers have had aeronautical visions from the start of our independence. We need to pay more attention to having a robust, functional National Space Agency. This sector is a significant part of the overall welfare of Indonesian citizens and we should strengthen it.