Why is it hard to build a space company in the Philippines?
As some of you may know, I am the founder of Orbital Exploration Technologies, Inc. or also known as OrbitX. Our goal is simple – to bring Filipinos to space and to provide an avenue for developing countries and startups to access space. Noble as it sounds, it is easier and sweeter to say than to do. So if it is hard, why bother to pursue it? The answer is, we need it as a country. We have defense and telecommunications concerns that we should improve. Also, we are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire meaning natural calamities do happen more often in our region. In order for us to better understand our surroundings and the impacts of our activities to the changing world, we need to have space technology access.
Okay, enough talking, let us get to the points on why it is almost “impossible” to build (and fly) a commercial rocket in the Philippines:
- There are no infrastructures ready to be used. Building a rocket is just a piece of the overall picture. For us to test the integrity of our designs and prototypes, we need to use or create facilities that could handle the technical demands of the project. Building facilities require proper engineering methods and safety protocols. We cannot just put up a tent and have the tests. It will always be more than that. Spoiler alert: That is why we registered in the United States of America (USA).
- Working on a limited resource is difficult. Since we started this project, the question that will always come up during discussions, “Do we have that?” or “Can we afford that?” A rocket company is a billion dollar project and those companies that failed to adapt died. When I pursued this vision way back 2019, I expected the challenges of this project especially that I am not a billionaire and we do not have a proven track record (yet) for these types of cool stuff as a country. Getting huge investors is the most challenging job because without money, any huge project are doomed. So, the current strategy is to tap into vertical businesses that could make money and reinvest into the huge project. Sadly, no institutional investor would trust random guys that want to fly a rocket from a developing country.
- “Why not build a bottle rocket just to test?” It is not that easy. My research and development team have decided that the designs should be tested properly starting with the engine that we are developing and that is where it took us a lot of time. To give you a glimpse, just for a small data acquisition unit for the engine testing, it will cost us 36000 Euros (base price). I will never let the team work on it from scratch because the manpower is still small and it would launch us backwards (would delay the timeline more). 90% of the parts are not available in Raon, Home Depot or Ace Hardware. Everything should be designed, produced and tested properly to the point of perfection and master tailor-fitting.
- Building international cooperations and relationships are also required. One of my main roles is partnership. Our alliances allowed us to have access to professionals who could help us with this project. As our Chief Engineer would always say, “Nobody from this team have an experience building an actual rocket.” To be able to fill that gap, consulting with advisors is always a key. Connecting with organizations is also equally important to build credibility and lasting impact in the industry as a member of the NewSpace.
- We are building a renewable liquid rocket not an ordinary liquid rocket, sugar rocket or solid rocket. This first version of the Haribon aims to fly using a rocket fuel derived from waste plastics. This is actually a project of our Chief Scientist, Andrey Antiporta – a chemical engineer. This is the first time that a team would attempt to launch a rocket using a renewable fuel. Unlike any other space company in the region, OrbitX is so brave to try this feat at a limited budget. Do not get me wrong. We also discussed solid rockets and liquid rockets but we want to stick to our vision of flying to space sustainably.
- The government budget is not yet ready for rocket building. Let us all be realistic. During this pandemic, funding a rocket project will never be a major priority of any government from any emerging market. You need to feed the people, create jobs, buy vaccines and procure medical supplies. If you will decide to pursue something audacious in the middle of a global crisis, public attention and scrutiny will come. On our part, we do not want to disturb the government because the taxpayers’ money should be placed in much more pressing issues and much more immediate developments in our society. Later, for sure, we can oblige them to participate.
- Once you start a project like this, love and hate will come. This particular project gave me a lot of happiness and also sadness and frustrations in life. Space as we all know is the most collaborative place that man could ever be. But that is not always the case. When people and the media heard about OrbitX, most people became really excited. From then, everyday I feel a ton of responsibility in my shoulder even if I know that it is just a vision from an ordinary guy. It is also funny to consider that there are people who will be there to watch you until you fail and to be honest, if I do not have a set of balls made out of titanium, I could have failed and died already due to intense pressure that this dream brings every second.
As I always say, I am actually expecting things to fail. This is rocket science. If this is easy, everyone could do it. At this type of venture, everyone is scheduled to be celebrated as a failure. The only thing you can do to survive is to become creative. One thing is for sure – without my dedicated team, OrbitX is nowhere to be found.