Thai space startup launches experiments with Bezos rocket

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket on launch pad. (Photo by Blue Origin)

A version of this story was originally produced for Khaosod English

BANGKOK — A Thai satellite startup launched food, experiments, and cultural objects into space last month just to see what would happen.

Mu Space Corp, a one-year-old startup based in Thailand, became the first Asian company to launch a mission using a rocket built by Blue Origin, a Kent-based space venture founded by Amazon CEO and billionaire Jeff Bezos in 2000. The New Shepard rocket launched July 18 in Van Horn, Texas and landed 11 minutes later.

Mu Space Corp is hoping that the mission will pave the way for more space industry work to come to Thailand. “Not many companies can strike a deal with Jeff Bezos, owner of Blue Origin and currently the world’s richest man,” Mu Space Corp founder James Yenbamroong said in an email. “I hope our partnership with Blue Origin will bring goodwill to Thailand, and further attract new investors, and foreign companies and workforce into the country.”

The flight tested how materials react and change under zero gravity and was the first to use reusable technology, James said. The materials were exposed to zero gravity conditions for 3 minutes to 4 minutes during an 11-minute, suborbital flight.

mu Space CEO and founder James Yenbamroong (left) in front of the crew capsule which carried the experiments into space. (Photo by Blue Origin)

The reusable rocket carried a payload containing technology such as a silicon bleeding-prevention device that could save hospital patients and a carbon nanotube with potential applications in space technology and rocket parts. It also contained vacuum-sealed food product to test sending food into space, study the pattern of gas distribution under low gravity, and test the quality of food after being exposed to zero gravity.

Along with items for testing, the rocket also carried several cultural items, including a football jersey representing Thailand’s love for the World Cup as well as the recent miraculous rescue of the Wild Board football team from a flooded cave in northern Thailand.

“We expect that with this system, it would be cheaper to send experiments, launch satellites or fly people into space in the future,” James said.

Thailand has not yet sent an astronaut into space but doing so is a goal for the nation, James said. Both Blue Origin and Mu Space Corp also aim to send everyday citizens to outer space.

James, who studied aerospace engineering in Los Angeles, said he believes Thailand could see tangible benefits.

“I believe satellite applications are beneficial to people, particularly in remote areas,” he said. Satellite, for example, can be used to deliver distance learning to students in rural schools or e-health services in far community clinics.”

Another of Mu Space Corp’s goals is to launch its own satellite in the 2020s. That satellite will be sent aboard another of Blue Origin’s rockets, the New Glenn, which is currently under development. The new satellite is expected to provide satellite communication across the Asia-Pacific region for at least 15 years.

James said many people living in rural areas do not have full access to technology and communications. He said the Thai government has a 14 billion-baht project to connect 4,000 remote villages to broadband, adding that many remain beyond the reach of digital infrastructure.

“A communication satellite is an ideal solution to provide these villages and the people with broadband, which is essential to rural and social development,” he said.

Customers in front of the crew capsule which carried the payload into space. (Photo by Blue Origin)

The space industry worldwide is predicted to reach a worth of USD$2.7 trillion within the next 30 years. Space technology in Thailand is largely an unexplored market and James hopes to join the race.

He said he hopes to make space technology a more understandable topic for society and encourage people to join the field.

“To promote better public understanding about space, we’re building soon an open research lab here in Bangkok to test the space products we’re developing and showcase them to the public,” he said. “These products would include space suits, gloves and gadgets.”

A Thai native, James attended secondary school in New Zealand and then studied aerospace and mechanical engineering at UCLA. He said that he learned about satellite systems while working with Northrop Grumman on unmanned vehicle systems.

“I like anything about space and satellite technology,” he said. “Since when I was young, I’m already fascinated with the moon and the constellation you see when you look in the sky at night.”