Christian Patouraux on Vanuatu’s first commercial satellite and the Pacific space industry
Christian Patouraux, founder and CEO of Kacific Broadband Satellites, the company behind the project to launch Kacific-1, Vanuatu’s first commercial satellite, in this exclusive interview for Vila Times talks about the satellite industry development, possible creation of Vanuatu Space Agency, and says Vanuatu is uniquely positioned to become a leader in this field in the Pacific.
‘We have raised US$152 million to finance the Kacific-1 project’
– What was the reason to choose Vanuatu as a jurisdiction in the Pacific to register the company [Kacific Broadband Satellites] and operate from?
There are a number of factors: the ease of doing business and the financial services expertise within Vanuatu, the country’s ability to attract talent, and its business-friendly Government. An advantageous tax regime is paramount to the capital intensive and distant assets of the space industry, and that too is an influencing factor.
We have developed a good relationship with Government departments and other agencies to deliver pilot connectivity programs in schools and healthcare centers in Vanuatu’s islands.
– What is the budget of the Kacific-1 project, the cost of the satellite construction?
We have raised US$152 million to finance the Kacific-1 project.
‘Space industry in Vanuatu could create thousands of jobs and attract billions of dollars of investments into the country’
– Do I understand right that Kacific-1 is 100% private project, and the Government of Vanuatu has no relation to it whatsoever?
Yes, Kacific is currently 100% privately owned. We are definitely looking for closer relationship with the Vanuatu government to service government entities with Kacific-1, but also to develop the future of the space industry in Vanuatu. The industry could create thousands of jobs and attract billions of dollars of investments into the country.
– Kacific Broadband Satellites is currently operational in Vanuatu, right? What are you doing in Vanuatu now, at this point?
Kacific is currently using some older active satellites to connect schools, hospital, resorts, domestic users, in the lead up to the bandwidth revolution of our Boeing-built Kacific-1 satellite.
Kacific supplies the internet connection for the VITAL network which connects village health workers and rural nurses working in isolation to specialists and resources in Vanuatu’s main centres. We understand that our service has been instrumental in saving more than 20 lives in just over a year by connecting two health centers on Maewo island.
Kacific also provides the internet service to several schools in Vanuatu, offering educational opportunities to remote communities. Lambubu Primary School on Malekula Island, for example, is connected via a small, solar powered VSAT terminal with speeds of up to 17 Mbps, which is sufficient for activities such as playing videos, and uploading and downloading images. The thirst for internet has grown immensely with some school connections now using over 70 GBytes per week.
– Kacific has selected SpaceX as the launch provider for its Kacific-1. Can we say this is to some extent a risky (controversial) choice?
Not really, SpaceX is widely recognized as one of the most innovative and certainly one of the most capable providers of launch vehicle technology in the world. The recent launch and recovery of the Falcon Heavy on 7 February 2018 was a milestone achievement, which, along with the landmark 50th flight of the Falcon 9, shows that SpaceX is a world leader in launch vehicles.
‘There is huge economic potential for Vanuatu in taking on a central role in the Pacific satellite industry’
– What are your personal thoughts on the economic development potential of Vanuatu?
There is huge economic potential for Vanuatu, not only in harnessing the economic and social benefits of satellite broadband, but in taking on a central role in the Pacific satellite industry.
Dozens of space companies are looking for a home country that is stable, with a government that builds good business relationships, has an advantageous tax regime, has the right space-related legislation, and that displays a local eagerness to attract high technology operations. Vanuatu is uniquely positioned to become a leader in the Pacific space industry, building on its location and financial services expertise to create an environment that attracts other commercial space companies.
‘We believe it would be beneficial to establish a space industry interest group in Vanuatu with the government’
– Would you be able to compare Vanuatu to other countries in the region/similar countries in the world?
There are strong parallels between the Republic of Vanuatu and Luxembourg, a small European State that has secured itself as a space industry hub, hosting major space and telecom businesses SES, Skype, Intelsat, and Blue Horizon. Geographically, both states are relatively small in land area (Luxembourg: 2,586 square kilometers; Vanuatu: 12,274 square kilometers) and have a highly rural environment with limited natural resources. Socio-politically, both states have small and dynamic governments, who are eager to find and develop new industry opportunities. These two countries have small populations (Luxembourg: 580,000; Vanuatu: 270,000), but have good regional relationships with strong, stable and populous economies.
By setting up the right environment with sensible space legislation, an ease of doing business and an advantageous tax regime, Vanuatu could easily attract venture capital funding, space industry incubators and space industry companies, generating thousands of jobs, attracting billions in foreign investments and thereby create a considerable drive in infrastructure build up.
Vanuatu is a fertile ground for the space industry. Kacific believes that it would be beneficial to establish a space industry interest group in Vanuatu with the government, leading to the creation of a Vanuatu Space Agency.
– “Kacific has begun expanding its model to other regions of the world with plans to launch more satellites in the future.” Tell me a bit more about Kacific Broadband Satellites operations in other regions and plans for new satellites.
There is nothing particular about the Asia Pacific region when it comes to the need of rural communities to be connected.
All around the world, the same market of rural communities exists for a service like Kacific. Whether in Africa, South America, Middle East, Central Asia, we could easily replicate what we are committed to start in Asia Pacific.
At this stage we are very focused on Asia Pacific but we have already explored markets beyond our initial focus and the response for our satellite internet bandwidth is positively and truly staggering.