No rocket science: Space and satellite business in Thailand

Dealing with Thailand’s new and old regulatory framework

Space industry covers business activities related to the manufacturing of components that go into Earth’s orbit or beyond. It covers the full range of activities and resources that create and provide value and benefits in the course of exploring, understanding, managing, and utilizing space. The main sectors are satellite and their subsystems manufacture, including satellite environment testing, ground equipment manufacturing, and service sector, as well as rocket-launch services, vehicle manufacturing, and subsystem manufacturing.

New Thai legislation: The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission Act has been enforced at the end of 2019 and provides the new basis for satellite businesses in Thailand. The NBTC is now the sole agency governing all related satellite businesses. It took this over from the Digital Economy and Society Ministry, which managed a cumbersome concession regime for more than three decades. The new liberalized system promises attractive business opportunities even for foreign investors.

Licenses instead of concessions: Under the 2019 NBTC framework, private satellite investments need a licensing for (i) the sky operation, (ii) landing rights, (iii) the orbital slot space, and (iv) ground segment businesses as transmission antennas and equipment for converting signals to an Internet protocol signal for terrestrial connectivity. The provided orbital slot space is reserved by the NBTC from the International Telecommunication Union. The ITU, formerly International Telegraph Union is the oldest global international organization and a specialized agency of the United Nations that is responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies.

Four packages in 2021: In June 2020, the NBTC has allotted four packages of satellite network filings subject to allocation for interested bidders early next year. The bidder will be selected either by a so-called beauty contest or by holding an auction. The procedure will be decided by NBTC in 2020, based on a public hearing to be scheduled for July 2020. The first package consists of 50.5 E and 51 E and the second concerns 78.5 E. The third involves 119.5 E and 120 E and the fourth is for 126 E and 142 E. The orbital slots in the first and fourth packages are currently unoccupied. 

 

Low Earth Orbit satellite business: LEO satellites operate between 500- 2,000 km above the Earth’s surface compared to the 36,000 km height of geostationary satellites. LEO business is opened up by an amendment to the Space Affairs Act. The advantage of the lower orbit is lower latency. Areas of application are drone technology and areas that require high levels of accuracy, such as remote surgery.

Aftermath of the previous concession agreements and black cases

Transition: At present, the satellite regulation is in the transition period from the concession regime to the telecommunication
license regime. Previously, satellite concessions to build, launch and operate satellites had been granted under a Domestic Communications Satellite Operating Agreement (or Operating Agreement on Domestic Communication Satellite, OADCS) by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society. Under the Agreement, the concessionaire must transfer ownership of the satellites, satellite control station, and all related operational equipment to the Ministry once the construction and installations are complete.

According to publicly available sources, there are currently various pending disputes on the applicability of the old or new regulatory framework, OADCS compliance, including Thai minimum shareholding issues. This will affect certain satellites that had been orbited under the concession era and will continue to operate after September 2021. 

Players and stakeholders in Thailand’s space and satellite sectors

Thailand’s NASA: Thailand’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency, is a Thai space agency and space research organization. It is responsible for remote sensing and technology development satellites. GISTDA operates the satellites Cosmo-SkyMed, KOMPSAT, LANDSAT-5, RADARSAT-2, and Thaichote. Another stakeholder in Thailand’s satellite business is the National Science and Technology Development Agency. NSTDA is a government agency established to promote the development of science and technology for Thailand. It operates autonomously with guidance and support of policies set by the National Science and Technology Development Board.

Mu Space: State telecom enterprise TOT cooperates with Mu Space Corp., a Thai satellite and space tech startup, to venture into the LEO satellite business as a potential revenue stream. A joint venture agreement has been signed in July 2020. TOT has one satellite gateway station in Bangkok and another in the Northeast.

Napa-1, Thailand’s first military nanosatellite (weight 5.37 kg) was launched on September 3, 2020, from Guiana Space Centre. The CubeSat 6U model had been acquired by Royal Thai Air Force RTAF’s Space Operation Centre (Spoc) from a Durch satellite manufacturer to be injected into low earth orbit (LEO) and the purpose to observe and survey Thai air space for defense and national security purposes. The launch of the Napa-1 makes the air force operational in air, cyber, and space under its 20-year strategic plan, but could be dual-used to assist natural disaster relief operations. It will work in tandem with the Napa-2 satellite, scheduled to be launched later with a Soyuz rocket with Fregat upper stage.

Professional services from Bangkok: “Orbital slots will be rented out on a first-come, first-served basis”

PUGNATORIUS Ltd. is the Bangkok-based specialist provider of transactional legal and tax advice on foreign investments in Thailand’s manufacturing and service industries as well as property developments and acquisitions. Not being solely focused on Thailand’s space and satellite sector, the law firm has a particular strength and long-term experience in Thailand’s complex regulatory framework in various modern industries. This includes in-depth knowledge und a deep understanding of Thailand’s foreign investment legislation and the application of regulations to cross-border situations and foreign joint ventures with local industries and companies.

Business ventures: The liberalization of competition in the satellite business creates opportunities for foreign satellite companies in space as well as the ground segment. To develop Thai satellites, to bring foreign satellites and payload into space, to use foreign satellite channels in Thailand, to develop and launch space missions are just a few of new business opportunities. The law firm is pleased to discuss new ideas and ventures and to offer efficient support.

Legal advice: PUGNATORIUS Ltd. assists foreign investors and stakeholders in understanding the Thai regulatory framework, it provides formal legal opinions according to international standards, comments on expected legal changes and policy changes. The law firm represents industry participants in negotiations and filings with the Thai authorities and acts as the local point of contact for Thai and foreign business partners. 

Bidding process: The law firm advises, assists, and represents international bidders in the public hearing, the auction or the beauty contest to obtain one of the license packages from the NBTC. 


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Disclaimer: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This low-resolution high-level outlook constitutes neither legal advice, nor an attorney-client relationship, nor equips with the insights, tools or skills to do this without the Bangkok investment law firm.

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