Sri Lanka: Sense prevails on satellites

Posted on June 6, 2010  /  11 Comments

We were happy to note that the Telecom Regulatory Commission has pulled the plug on a senseless project that we criticized when first announced and once again, for emphasis. It will be interesting to see how much Surrey Satellite Technology, a firm fronted by the son of an English Lord of some kind, cleared in fees in the past year. I met the man in Colombo. Obviously he would not have paid his way here.

The TRC will not proceed with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, the British firm which was commissioned to set up the Sri Lanka Space Communications Company last year, due to the high costs involved.

“To set up the satellite, there’s a cost of US$ 20 million. After sending it in orbit it is US$ 160 to US$ 180 million per annum, which is not feasible,” he said.The TRC chief reiterated that TRC is not averse to launching a satellite, but the regulator is exploring other options such as hiring satellites.


  1. Rohan Samarajiva

    In addition to the comments on the column, Nalaka Gunawardene wrote against the satellite plan: He too deserves part of the credit for questioning this idiotic plan.

  2. Rohan Samarajiva

    1. International agreements like this, which were made in the full glare of publicity and media coverage, can’t be abandoned or canceled quietly. I haven’t seen this particular agreement (has anyone outside the TRC?) but they typically include penalty clauses on both parties: if the service provider fails to deliver as promised, or if the client (in this case, TRC/govt of Sri Lanka) backs out half-way. Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd will need to be paid a settlement if Lanka now wants to walk out of the deal. Or they can sue for breach of contract…

      Can the TRC, now apparently under a more moderate and realistic management, tell us how much has been paid already, and what it costs to terminate this agreement with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd?

      And whose money was the former DG of the TRCSL playing games with? Certainly not his own…?

  3. You write: “a firm fronted by the son of an English Lord of some kind”

    If you’re referring to Martin Sweeting, he was knighted in 2002 and became a Sir after receiving an OBE in 1995 for his work in satellites. His parents? Mr and Mrs Sweeting.

  4. Rohan Samarajiva

    I was not referring to the CEO/Chairman, but the person who was working out the deal. He was definitely not a Professor and had Hon. in front of his name., which caused me to ask why.

    Never met Professor Sweeting and I make no comment about him.

  5. Bangladesh remains intoxicated while Sri Lanka has succeeded to overcome the hangover of satellite. SLTRC should share the recipe with BTRC.

    Bangladesh first planned to launch its satellite (GEO) sometimes in late 90s. I immediately expressed skepticism about the commercial viability of this move to a friend who was close to then political hierarchy. He said, “Nobody would believe you unless the stalwarts endorse your logic.”

    I used to routinely meet the executives of Boeing and Lockheed Martin in various trade events. Both the companies dominate the global satellite market. I again saw the known faces of Boeing and Lockheed in ITU Telecom Americas 2000 at Rio de Janeiro. I separately discussed the Bangladesh satellite issue with them.

    They said Bangladesh could not recover hundreds of million dollars within 12 years (GEO satellite’s lifespan). Both the vendors had strongly suggested Bangladesh to secure its slot in the orbit and lease it out to an established carrier instead. Besides collecting rental from its tenant in the space, the country could secure transponders for its own telecoms needs.

    I elaborately wrote it in the Financial Express (The content is not available in the web) and, thankfully, the government had dropped its space misadventure. Now the same party has returned to power and someone has revived the satellite plan.

    Can Bangladesh and Sri Lanka join hands to secure their slots in the orbit and lease out, as the Boeing and Lockheed Martin executives had suggested me ten years ago?

  6. Sumedha Chandrarathna

    Nice to hear, its a totally waste of pulic money

  7. Nalaka Gunawardene has a piece in the Sunday Times:

  8. Rohan Samarajeewa sounds gleeful in his comments every time the current government runs into difficulty. Now he has found a sidekick in Nalaka Goonawardana. This Samara-Goon duo can never find anything good in the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. So keep on sulking for the next six years and maybe for much longer!

  9. Hela Handa & his ilk would be happy to hear that I take my ‘sidekick’ duties very seriously. I’ve just written an expanded and more personalised version of the Sunday Times article, which is published today on
    Sacred Cows and Orbital Dreams in Sri Lanka

    While much of this essay is on the satellite project now on hold, I point out towards the end that the satellite is not the only mega-science project being pursued in post-war Sri Lanka “In June 2009, the Ministry of Science and Technology directed the Atomic Energy Authority to set up a national committee to study technical and financial aspects of setting up a nuclear power plant. Some environmental activists have already expressed concern, highlighting safety and public health risks, high cost of construction and the unresolved problem of nuclear waste disposal.”

    The debate on cost-benefits and safety aspects of a nuclear reactor has also not taken place yet, and there have been surprisingly few voices speaking out.

    I end by saying: “Sacred cows – whether orbital or radioactive – can’t be allowed free range.”