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Issue 8: Historical Overview - Planning and Development of PALAPA

Planning and Development of Indonesia's Domestic Communications Satellite System PALAPA


Decision to Acquire PALAPA

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In 1965, when EARLY BIRD successfully reached orbit, Indonesia arrived at a decision to study satellite communication systems closely. This can be seen from a government document (PP. 35/1965) which, among others, states that "…all effort and energy needs to be directed to following as early as possible the development in science and technology in the field of telecommunications, such as SATELLITE and others."[29] (Capitals are original).

Two years after this document was issued, Indonesia decided to build the Jatiluhur earth station that facilitates international communication via the INTELSAT satellite. While developing the Jatiluhur earth station for international communications, the Minister of Communications[30] in the Five Years Development Plan I (FYDP I, 1968-1973), Frans Seda, formed a committee to study the national telecommunications system in Indonesia. The committee-headed by the Director General of Posts and Telecommunications, with a membership from the Directorate General of Posts and Telecommunications, Telecommunications Council, Department of Defence and Security, as well as telecommunications experts-recommended the satellite system as one of their preferences. The government's desire to use a domestic satellite system, especially for educational purposes (using India's experience with its SITE program), had also been mentioned earlier in 1968 to Robert McNamara of the World Bank, by Frans Seda.[31]

The satellite also received attention within academia. In 1968, Iskandar Alisyahbana, one of the prominent experts in the field of telecommunication in Indonesia, wrote Telecommunications for Education and National Development.[32] Alisyahbana proposed the application of telecommunication systems via satellite for the national development of Indonesia and of Southeast Asia. This system, according to him, could be used to support education, information and news dissemination in the country. He stressed the importance of the system in supporting educational programs in Indonesia.[33]

After the inauguration of the Jatiluhur earth station in 1969, the desirability of using satellites for domestic purposes arose. This is understandable, for at that time, it was easier to make connections from Jakarta to capital cities of other countries around the globe than to reach provincial capital cities outside Java.

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Source: Tempo Magazine archives

As a matter of fact, President Suharto suggested at that inauguration that the domestic satellite system should be implemented in the second FYDP period (1974-1979).[34] Based in this suggestion, data on telecommunication traffic in Indonesia began to be collected.

Demand for telecommunications at that time was assessed, and future demand projected. Comparative studies were also done in the countries which were in the process of using communications satellite technology.[35]

Meanwhile, in 1971 two Indonesian telecommunications officials, Suhardjono and Willy Munandir Mangoendiprodjo attended the ITU meeting and Telecommunication Exhibition I (Telecom '71) in Geneva. In the exhibition, they were particularly interested in the Hughes Aircraft Company's exhibit that displayed the possibility of using communications satellites for domestic purposes.[36]

Having learned about the availability of technology for domestic telecommunications, serious discussions and further studies were consequently undertaken, e.g., the cost-benefit analysis of a domestic satellite system in Indonesia. In 1971, Aero Ford sent a team headed by Robert Beach to offer services for satellite construction in Indonesia. The ensuing discussion, however, was not conclusive. The Indonesian officials felt that Aero Ford "was apparently not convinced that Indonesia could finance that project, considering the economic situation of the country…"[37]

The successful launching in November 1972 of ANIK-A, a Canadian domestic satellite, however, was significant in bringing the idea of using a domestic satellite system in Indonesia into a reality. Hughes Aircraft Company, the constructor of ANIK-A, offered in 1971 to make a complete presentation in the field of space and earth segments, as well as a financial analysis of a domestic satellite system that might be suitable for Indonesia.[38]

The excitement of using satellite technology for communications was also shared by other countries in Southeast Asia. In fact, in 1973, the head of the Philippines Telecommunication Council, C. Careon, accompanied by officers from the Philippines Communications Satellite Corporation, visited Indonesia to discuss the possibility of forming an organization that would plan and operate EASAT (East Asian Satellite Communications System). The purpose of this multinational satellite system would be for general consumption by member countries. This system would cover nine countries, i.e., South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines.[39]

There was no agreement or firm decision on this regional system. On the contrary, the decision to launch a domestic satellite, owned solely by Indonesia, became more certain. This was manifested in President Suharto's advice in 1973 to the Directorate of Posts and Telecommunications, which said in part that a domestic satellite system that can cover the whole Indonesian archipelago should be acquired and operated within the following two to two-and-a-half years.[40]

Accepting this challenge, on Sepember 4, 1973, the Director General of Posts and Telecommunications appointed a committee to study the technical, operational and economic aspect of a domestic satellite system.[41] The committee concluded that a domestic communications satellite, both in its technical and non-technical aspects, was suitable for Indonesia. The reasons given for this conclusion were that it will, particularly, enable the realization of an integrated national telecommunications system, and additionally, it will support the realization of the goal of National Archipelagic Outlook (Wawasan Nusantara). The result of this study was officially announced on April 3, 1974.[42]

The proposal received a mixed response from government officials, telecommunication experts and the general public. Some were in agreement because they foresaw the suitability of the system for Indonesian needs. Others disagreed because of the lack of Indonesian experts in those fields. Yet others also saw it as too expensive and too advanced for the nation. Criticism also came from abroad.[43]

Despite the ongoing debate among Indonesia experts on whether the system was suitable or not for the country, on July 5, 1974, PERUMTEL and Hughes Aircraft Company signed an agreement concerning the system definition of the Indonesian domestic communication satellite system. The agreement covered regulations of system engineering, satellite design, earth station design, and administrative assistance.[44]

To ensure the full support of all parties for this government decision, and to discuss the possible applications of the domestic satellite system in Indonesia, a seminar was held on September 9-12, 1974 in Jakarta.[45] Simultaneously, a domestic communication satellite exhibition was held too. Both national and foreign companies participated in this exhibition. On October 5-10, 1974, the Electronic Association of the Bandung Institute of Technology also conducted a symposium to discuss the technical aspects of the domestic communications satellite system.

Later, an Indonesian delegation visited the United States to study the possibility of obtaining a loan for the project from Export-Import Bank. The result was an agreement from the Export-Import Bank and Consortium Bank of the United States in Washington D.C. to provide loans for the project.[46]

The delegation also looked at the possibility of using the INTELSAT transponders for the Indonesian domestic communications system (as Algeria and Brazil had done at the time). However, though three transponders were needed, only two could be allotted for Indonesia in 1975, without any assurance that another would be forthcoming in the following years. Therefore, Indonesia decided not to use INTELSAT services for its domestic communications but go on with its own domestic communications satellite system project.[47]

President Suharto, in a speech introducing the 1975-1976 state budget, on January 6, 1975, officially announced that:

In the field of telecommunications, preparation is being made so that in this period, 1975-1976, a domestic communications satellite can be launched. Besides telecommunications, this satellite will also be used for radio and television and for educational purposes.[48]

With this official presidential announcement before the Parliament assembly, the domestic communications satellite program was officially started as a government and national project. The following discussion is a chronological development of the Indonesian Domestic Communication Satellite System PALAPA.

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