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Issue 8: Historical Overview - Planning and Development of PALAPA

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


The First Generation of PALAPA (PALAPA-A)

Agreement with Contractors and Launchers.

Soon after the president announced officially the domestic satellite program as a national program for the 1975-76 budget year, negotiations commenced between the Indonesian government and the prospective contractors, i.e., the Hughes Aircraft Company, Aero Ford (Philco Ford), and Federal Electric, an affiliate of ITT.

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Source: Tempo Magazine archives

The negotiations covered the construction of a pair of satellites and earth stations.[50] Will Turk and R.L. Bowman of Hughes Aircraft Company were appointed as project manager and vice project manager, respectively. However, they were later replaced by Llyod Harisson, who had previous experience as project manager for the Canadian satellite project.[51]

The contracts concerning the construction of the domestic satellite system were signed on February 15, 1975, with three American companies: (1) Hughes Aircraft Company was to build a pair of communications satellites, the main control station at Cibinong, and five major as well as four minor earth stations in Java, Bali and Nusatenggara. (2) Philco Ford Overseas Services was to build seven major and eight minor earth stations in Sumatra, Kalimantan, and part of Sulawesi; and (3) Federal Electric International (ITT) was to build six major earth stations, and nine minor ones in Sulawesi, Maluku and Irian Jaya. As for the civil works construction of the earth stations, two domestic contractors won the tenders. They were C.V. Modern Jaya and P.T. Graha Gapura.[52]

To ensure the launching of the satellite, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in March 1975 between the Indonesian government and NASA. The memorandum was strengthened by the exchange of diplomatic notes signed by Indonesia's Ambassador to the United States, Roesmin Noerjadin, and Dixy Lee Ray, representing the United States. Finally, on May 1, 1975, the actual agreement for launching the satellites was signed by the Director General of Posts and Telecommunications, Soehardjono of Indonesia, and Noel W. Hinners of NASA.[53]

The agreement concerning the insurance of the satellites was made on April 28, 1975, between PERUMTEL and P.T. Asuransi Jasa Indonesia. On the same day, agreements relating to civil engineering were signed with the two local contractors previously mentioned.[54]

Management and Funding

After contracts were signed, the project management was appointed. The project manager A. Ph. Djiwatampu, was to be assisted by two deputy project managers, Harjana Sutarja and Muhaimin. Saleh Bunawan was also appointed as PERUMTEL's representative in El Segundo, California, and was assisted by an American consultant. The later was to help in supervising the satellite construction. In order to construct the earth stations, 12 project divisions, 40 heads of project sub-divisions, the telecommunications staff, and some civil engineers were appointed.[55]

A total of US$ 161.6 million was needed for the first generation of the Indonesian domestic satellite system. The Export-Import Bank of Washington D.C., provided US$ 56.6 million, the U.S. Consortium Bank US$ 89 million, and the Consortium Bank Commercial US$ 15.8 million, while the Indonesian government paid the remaining US$ 165.5 thousand.[56]

According to Emil Salim, Minister of Communications, the total budget for the telecommunication system was US$ 1.4 billion. Only 12.5 percent (US$ 178.7 million) of the money was used to acquire and to launch the two satellites and to build the 40 initial earth stations. The biggest portion of the budget went to the telephone and telex expansion to all provinces of Indonesia, i.e., almost 80 percent.[57] The remaining 8 percent was used to modernize and/or build new radio and television stations.[58]

Coordination with Other Systems

The International Telecommunications Union regulation states, among other things, that no new telecommunications system can begin operations until it has been coordinated with both Radio regulations and the International Frequencies Registration Board (IFRB). It also need to be entered into the Master Register.[59] As a member of INTELSAT, Indonesia needed to coordinate its planned system with that of INTELSAT in order to operate its own satellite system.

Indonesian telecommunications officials at the time assumed that INTELSAT was disappointed with the fact that Indonesia had already gone too far by not only signing contracts with Hughes Aircraft and other companies, but also by signing agreements with the government of the United States concerning the launching of satellites before consulting INTELSAT.[60]

At the XVI Board of Governors (BG) of INTELSAT meeting in 1975, Indonesia mentioned the reasons why it needed a domestic satellite, which INTELSAT found it difficult to agree with. INTELSAT even contacted the U.S. State Department concerning the launching agreement. The Department affirmed its decision to complete its part of the agreement with or without INTELSAT's consent. NASA would by all means launch the Indonesian satellites. At that meeting, the General Secretary of INTELSAT issued a paper (BG-16-70 DS, July 14, 1975) about the coordination of the Indonesian domestic satellite. It stated that Indonesia's planned satellites can only be stationed 92.1 degrees on the eastern longitude or could be put 83 degrees on the eastern longitude for just two years. Indonesia would also be required to agree to abide by certain limitations set by INTELSAT on some transponders.[61]

The Indonesian delegations, together with other members of the ASIAN group, issued an answering paper the following day. It stated that there was a need for agreement about the Indonesian satellites. However, if agreement was not reached, Indonesia would go on with the project without further negotiation with INTELSAT. On receiving the Indonesian response and seeing how strong it was, INTELSAT asked Indonesia to compromise - Indonesia should cancel its paper and INTELSAT, in turn, will cancel its paper. Agreements and disagreements thus continued among INTELSAT delegates through the last day of meeting.[62]

Realizing how uncertain things had become, especially at the last day's meeting, the Indonesian delegation urged that a decision be made on the Indonesian satellite before 12:00 P.M. Their reason was that the nature of the decision was such that there was a need for agreement to occur at the highest levels at INTELSAT. Finally, INTELSAT agreed that Indonesia's satellite could be put in orbit at 83 degrees on the eastern longitude. An agreement in the Memorandum of Understanding would be prepared in the future by both parties, and would be legalized at the next BG meeting. This agreement did not, however, take effect at the XVII BG Meeting in September. Indeed, the Indonesian satellite was not mentioned at all at this meeting.[63]

At the XVIII BG meeting in November 1975, Indonesia which received support from the ASPAC group (Singapore and Malaysia), the East African Group (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania), as well as Brazil and Canada, finally received INTELSAT's consent. The Memorandum of Understanding between the Indonesian government and INTELSAT, was eventually signed on November 25, 1975. On November 26, 1975 the PALAPA system was registered to the IFRB in Geneva.[64]

Specifications and Coverage

The pair of PALAPA-A satellites were identical to the early generations of ANIK and WESTAR satellites which Hughes Aircraft Company built for the domestic satellite systems of Canada and the United States (See picture of PALAPA A). PALAPA-A had 12 transponders with an average capacity of 6,000 voice circuits or 12 simultaneous color television channels, or any combination of the two. The satellites were 3.41 meters in height (including antennas), and 1.9 meters in diameter.

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Palapa A. Source:

Their launch weight was 574 kilograms, while their orbit weight was 297 kilograms. The design lifetime of the satellite in orbit was seven years. The location of PALAPA-A1 and A-2 were around 77 degrees and 83 degrees on the eastern longitude.[65]

With specially designed antenna, the satellite's signal power was concentrated on all Indonesian islands as well as the surrounding areas of Southeast Asia: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines (See the coverage).[66] Located on all major islands of Indonesia, the original earth stations were 40 in number, with one master control, 19 major and 20 other minor stations.

The space and earth segments of PALAPA-A were controlled and operated by PERUMTEL. The 12 transponders of the PALAPA-A were allocated mostly for point-to-point telecommunication facilities. In fact, seven out of the nine transponders allocated for Indonesia, were used by PERUMTEL, one was used by the Television Republic of Indonesia (TVRI), and the other for the Ministry of Defence and Security. Three ASEAN countries were also using PALAPA-A transponders (the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia) at this time. Another PALAPA-A transponder was being used for occasional ASEAN Television programs.

The Launching, Naming and Inauguration

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The PALAPA-A1 satellite was brought from El Segundo, California to the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida to be launched by Rocket Thor Delta 2914. This happened at 7:31 P.M. Florida time, on July 8, 1976, (or at 6:31 am western Indonesian time, on July 9, 1976).
Source: Tempo Magazine archives

Only 26 minutes into the launching, the PALAPA-A satellite traveled at a speed of 35,217 kilometers per hour, and entered its elliptical transfer at an apogee of 35,000 kilometers and perigee of 231.6 kilometers. When the satellite entered its orbit slot, the apogee engine was fired from the main control at Cibinong, Indonesia at 14.17 Western Indonesian time on July 12, 1976. In short, the launching procedure was successful.[67]

After watching the launching process of the satellite via television in Jakarta, President Suharto mentioned his reason for naming the Indonesian satellite PALAPA. The president, among others, said the name of PALAPA was derived from the oath proclaimed in 1334 by Gajah Mada, the Prime Minister of Majapahit Kingdom. It is chosen as the name of the satellite because it shows that Indonesia had glorious eras before colonialism. Also with hope that the system can be used to unite the archipelago and to realize Indonesia's goals, especially to a prosperous and just society.[68]

On the occasion of the thirty-first anniversary of Indonesian independence, on August 16, 1976, President Suharto inaugurated the domestic communications satellite system in Parliament House, Jakarta. After unveiling and signing the plaque to mark the official inauguration of the satellite, the President spoke by telephone via the PALAPA system with the Governor of Ache, Muzakir Walad in Banda Aceh (the most western part of the archipelago), and to the Governor of Irian Jaya, Sultran, in Jayapura. Then the Governor of Ache in his turn, made a telephone call to the Regent of Merauke, Jacob Pattipi, on the eastern-most part of the country.[69]

Thus within a matter of two years after the President's announcement that the domestic satellite project would be a national project, and about 18 months after the contract had been signed, all of Indonesia's islands were linked electronically with a high-technology telecommunications system from its western to its eastern extremities. This meant that the unification of the archipelago, at least in terms of telecommunications, had become reality for the first time since Gajah Mada declared the PALAPA oath to unite the archipelago six centuries ago.

As with all other communications satellite systems, a back-up system in orbit is a must. The PALAPA-A2, as the back up of the PALAPA-A1, was launched on March 10, 1977 at 6:16 P.M. Florida time, or at 6:24 A.M. Western Indonesian time, on March 11, 1977. The launching of PALAPA-A2 was also successful. It reached its geostationary orbit on the 77 degree eastern longitude side.


Virtually all developing countries have shared and participated in communications satellite activities. This technology is available to developing countries primarily because of the diffusive nature of the technology. Stationed in the GSO, communication satellites with global beams ignore the national borders, ideologies, religions, races, and levels of economic development of the country they serve. In addition, communications satellites are available for developing countries because of the existence of international, regional, and national systems that provide facilities to them. They include INTELSAT, INTERSPUTNIK and IMMARSAT international systems, EUTELSAT and ARABSAT regional systems; and PALAPA, INSAT, BRAZILSAT, MORELOS, and STW systems that specifically serve developing nations.

Both internal and external factors and actors have contributed to developing countries becoming involved in communications satellite activities. External factors and actors were found to be dominant in the applications of communications satellites for international communications. On the other hand, internal factors and actors were found to be determinant in acquiring communications satellites for domestic purposes. PALAPA, for example, was the result of strong political commitment by the Indonesian government. The system has been used primarily for national unification programs and to facilitate the realization of the Archipelagic Concept (Wawasan Nusantara).

In fact, PALAPA has been, in part, responsible for the national integration of Indonesia, i.e., to link all the provinces, as well as the major industrial sites, with high quality point-to-point communications; to broadcast national radio and television down to village levels; and to support the armed forces communication networks. These were the initial goals for PALAPA; therefore the system is serving its purposes. Even though Indonesia is the pioneer in establishing a communication satellite system for domestic purposes in the developing world, it has done very little to employ this technology for community development programs. In other words, the potential uses of the technology for community developments (i.e., education, health, rural development, agricultural extensions) have not been employed on a large scale. Other community programs have been integrated with, and sometimes are overshadowed by national news, cultural, sports, and entertainment programs.

In Indonesia, the basic hindrances to optimal usage of the satellite capacities for community development programming have been mainly the limited availability of programming facilities and personnel, and the lack of cooperation among the parties involved. Unlike the situation in the United States, where satellites came into being after other supporting means had been well established, e.g., studies, well-trained personnel, sophisticated equipment, etc., Indonesia obtained its satellite before other supporting systems were available. Therefore, under-utilization of the system, especially in the early stages, couldn't be avoided.

In fact, the under-utilization of satellites capabilities is also found in point-to-point communications. Even though PALAPA has circled the globe for some time, Indonesian telephone density is still among the lowest in the world. This is caused partly by the fact that the supporting systems were still very fragmented, particularly the switching and terminal equipment. The shortage of funds, limited skilled manpower, rigid regulations, and lack of cooperation among major actors were found to be basic hindrances in speeding up the availability of telephone service in Indonesia.

Despite the limitations above, PALAPA was found to be very useful in integrating the country. It has effectively "united" the Indonesians six centuries after the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Majapahit, Gajah Mada, declared his PALAPA oath in 1334. If the United States was truly united with the invention of railways and the telegraph, Indonesia is hopeful that its unification will come as a result of the extensive use of airplanes, ships, and satellite communications.


  1. *This paper is taken from the author's dissertation written in 1989, entitled The Application of Communications Satellite in Developing Countries: The Case of Indonesia.
  2. Willy Munandir Mangoendiprodjo, PALAPA: A Satellite Communications for Development (Bandung: PERUMTEL, 1981), 3.
  3. Republic of Indonesia, The Department of Information, Indonesia 1987: An Official Handbook (Jakarta: Percetakan Negara, 1987), 9.
  4. Ibid, 70.
  5. Frederica M. Bunge, ed., Indonesia: A Country Study, (Washington D.C.)
  6. The Department of Information, Indonesia 1987.
  7. The Department of Information, Indonesia 1987, 25-30.
  8. Post and Telecommunications, Sewindu PALAPA, 7. Similar statement was given by President Suharto in his 1976 state speech. See "Pidato Kenegaraan Presiden Republik Indonesia di Depan Sidang Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat 16 Agustus 1076" [State Speech of the President of Indonesia Soeharto before the Assembly of the People's Representative Council 16 August 1976], Kompas, 18 August 1976.
  9. Republic of Indonesia, People's Consultative Assembly, TAP MPR No.IV/MPR/1973.
  10. The Department of Information, Indonesia 1987, 7.
  11. Ibid 104-105.
  12. Pancasila is the philosophical basis of the Indonesian State. Pancasila means Five Principles, which are: 1) Believe in the one supreme God, 2) Just and civilzed humanity, 3) The unity of Indonesia, 4) Democracy led by thw wisdom of deliberation among representatives, and 5) Social justice for the whole of the people of Indonesia. See The Department of Information, Indonesia 1987, 3.
  13. Sewindu PALAPA, 9.
  14. Willy Munandir Mangoendiprodjo and Suprapto Martosuhardjo, Indonesian Telecommunication Development: Its Role in the Pursuit of National Development Objectives (Jakarta: n.p., 1979), 8-9.
  15. In 1975, the year PALAPA was put as a national project, significant transportation projects were also undertaken to reach isolated areas of the country. These include the development and improvement of 40 seaports and 62 airports. Pioneer shipping and flight services-serving areas that are not commercially viable-were introduced to many isolated places. See Kompas (7 January 1975).
  16. Ibid.
  17. According to Dahlan, business considerations are in fact the main motivation behind the Indonesian satellite program, at least in the preliminary stages. See M. Alwi Dahlan, "Indonesia's satellite Experience: Analysis of Policy and Implementation Problems in Telecommunications and Development Communications," Paper presented at the Communications Policy Research Agenda Workshop, East West Communications Institute, Hawaii, 17-23 January 1982, 5.
  18. Ibid, 9.
  19. Ibid.
  20. See Alfian comment in "Sistem Komunikasi Satelit Domestik di Indonesia: Belum Diketahui Pasti Seluruh Efek Positif-Negatifnya" [Domestic Communications Satellite System in Indonesia: It Is Not Yet Known for Certain its Negative and Positive Effects] Kompas, 9 July 1976; also Godwin C. Chu, Alfian, and Wilbur Schramm, Satellite Television Comes to Indonesian Villages: A Study of Social Impact, (Jakarta nad Honolulu: Leknas/LIPI and East-West Center, 1985), 452; and Manngoendiprodjo and Martosuhardjo, 10-13.
  21. Kompas (7 January 1975).
  22. "Pidato Kenegaraan," Kompas (18 August 1976).
  23. Sewindu PALAPA, 61-62.
  24. The total cost of PALAPA project was Rp. 581 billion when the state budget in 1975/1976 was Rp. 2.734 billion. See "Presiden Resmikan Pemakaian SKSD: Halo Saudara Gubernur" [President Inaugurated SKSD: Hello Governor], Kompas, 18 August 1976; also Kompas (7 January 1975).
  25. Dahlan, "Indonesia's Satellite Experience," 2.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Kompas (9 July 1976).
  29. The council was defined as advisory to the President in the determination of the government's policy in the telecommunication field. The composition of the Council is: The Minister of Communications and Chairman., and representatives from several departments-Communications, Defense and Security, Information, Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs-and National Planning and Development Boards (BAPPENAS), State Intelligence Coordinating Body and Indonesian Science Institution as members. See "Case Study of Alternative Systems for Distribution of Educational radio in Indonesia," prepared under contract with the Academy for Educational Development for the Office of Educational Technology Agency for International Development (Palo Alto: Edutel Communications and Development, 1980) 1-2.
  30. Sewindu PALAPA, 15.
  31. The department that administered Posts and Telecommunications matters was changed from the Department of Communication in the first two FYDP to the Department of Transport, Communications and Tourism in the third FYDP. Since the fourth FYDP, it has been the Department of Tourism, Posts and Telecommunications.
  32. Sewindu PALAPA, 17.
  33. To be delivered as an affirmation speech on the occasion of being honored as the electronics professor at the Bandung Institute of Technology. See Alisyahbana, Telekomunikasi untuk Edukasi, 1968.
  34. Alisyahbana later became a member of a committee that was formed to study the national telecommunication system of Indonesia which proposed the utilization of satellite for domestic system.
  35. Sewindu PALAPA, 19.
  36. History of Posts and Telecommunications, 175; and Sewindu PALAPA, 19.
  37. At that time Hughes Aircraft Company was in the process of developing ANIK-A of Canada.
  38. Sewindu PALAPA, 26.
  39. The presentation delivered by Hughes Aircraft team in March 1983. Ibid.
  40. Directorate General and Post Telecommunications, Laporan Tahunan 1973 [Annual Report 1973] (Jakarta: Ditjen Postel, 1974), 35 and idem, Sewindu PALAPA, 26.
  41. Sewindu PALAPA, 19.
  42. Based on decree (SK/No.25/Dirjen/1973) on September 4, 1973, Ibid.
  43. Sewindu PALAPA, 19.
  44. Ibid; see also Dahlan, Palapa Project and Rural Development, 1986, 2.
  45. History Posts and Telecommunications, 175; idem Sewindu PALAPA, 26.
  46. The organizers and participants of the seminar consisted of representatives from the Department of Transport, Communications and Tourism, the Department of Education and Culture, the Department of Information, LAPAN, the Directorate General of Post and Telecommunication, PERUMTEL, and the Bandung Institute of Technology, government institutions, and domestic and foreign companies.

    The speakers were the Minister of Education and Culture, the Minister of Research and Technology, the Assistant of Communications and Electronics of the Department of Defence and Security, and Director General of Posts and Telecommunications, as well as telecommunications experts from UNESCO, India, and the United States. See "Seminar Sistim Domestik Satelit [Seminar on Domestik Satellite System], Kompas, 9 Septemebr 1974; History Posts and Telecommunicaitons, 175; and idem Sewindu PALAPA, 20-21.
  47. Sewindu PALAPA, 26.
  48. Ibid.
  49. Kompas (7 January 1976).
  50. History of Posts and Telecommunications, 175.
  51. The negotiators on the Indonesian side were officials from the government such as the Department of Transport, Communications and Tourism, National Development Planning Board (BAPPENAS), the Department of Finance, the Bank of Indonesia, the Directorate General of Post and Telecommunications, PERUMTEL. See History Posts and Telecommunications, 180; and Sewindu PALAPA, 30.
  52. Sewindu PALAPA, 30.
  53. History of Posts and Telecommunications, 180.
  54. Ibid; and Sewindu PALAPA, 21.
  55. History of Posts and Telecommunications, 180.
  56. Sewindu PALAPA, 31.
  57. Information on the same amount of money for the PALAPA-A project was various. Press comment at that time said that the information on the PALAPA project budget was fragmented and unclear and was not openly given. See Atmakusumah, "PALAPA: Bukan Sekedar Kebanggan" [PALAPA: Not Merely a Pride]. Tempo (Jakarta), 8 May 1976, 38.
  58. Including transmission and terminal facilities, cables, building central telephone offices, for education and training telecommunications personnel.
  59. See "Presiden Resmikan SKSD," Kompas (18 August 1976); and "Apa Untung, Jadi Gajah Mada 1976?", Tempo, 17 July 1976, 48-49.
  60. History of Posts and Telecommunications, 181.
  61. Discussion on this issue can be seen in Sewindu PALAPA, 35-36.
  62. Ibid, 35.
  63. Ibid.
  64. Ibid.
  65. Indonesia was represented by J. Sutanggar Tengker, head of Telecommunications Directorate, while INTELSAT was represented by Santiago Astrain, the Director General of the organization. The Memorandum of Understanding stated that INTELSAT had no objection to the orbital location of Indonesian satellite in the 83 degree eastern longitude. See Sewindu PALAPA, 35.
  66. Hughes Aircraft Company, Space and Communications Group, "PALAPA Domestic Communications Satellite for Indonesia," Fact Sheet (El Segundi, CA: Public Relations of Hughes Aircraft Company) SCG 76011M 3/77.
  67. Ibid.
  68. Ibid, 181.
  69. President comment given to press, see "Apa Untung," Tempo (17 July 1976), 48.
  70. Sewindu PALAPA, 41.
  71. History of Posts and Telecommunications, 185.

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