22 Nov 2021
When Ng Zhen Ning co-founded NuSpace to build Internet of Things (IoT) nanosatellites in November 2018, many did not believe that the company would survive. Today, he is the CEO of a company that is transforming Singapore into Asia’s Space Hub.
Nanosatellites are actually about the size of a shoebox that orbit Earth and can relay IoT data packets and connectivity to rural villages, remote islands or even to the middle of a desert or ocean. These are often areas that are not covered by conventional communication infrastructure.
Nanosatellites can also be cost-effectively replaced with more modern ones with the latest design and technological innovations. This focus on continuous improvement is similar to Audi’s philosophy of Living Progress and its four tenets of Design, Sustainability, Digitisation and Performance.
Zhen Ning says that to be able to create, manage and grow his own startup by the age of 31 is a privilege. In addition, NuSpace has managed to attract private investment funding and even secured a customer for its satellite engineering services. He and his four colleagues are now eagerly looking forward to their first demonstration satellite, NuX-1, to be launched in the US in early 2022.
Bearing in mind that NuSpace is aiming at the space industry in Singapore, which makes the challenge even harder, Zhen Ning looks back at the road he travelled and what the future holds for him.
The idea popped up when the team was brainstorming setting up NuSpace. After all, Singapore is known as a hub for maritime, air, financial, and trade services. So we thought, “Why not a space hub?”
Singapore being in a geographically advantageous location, along with its politically neutral business outlook make it very attractive for foreign space companies to set up an office. Being situated practically on the equator is an excellent location for ground stations as most satellites would pass over Singapore at least once per day. IoT also does not require the capacity of large satellites, making it very suitable for nanosatellite application.
My dad is also an entrepreneur in the engineering field and he inspired and encouraged me to pursue my interest without worrying too much about failure. There’s a Chinese proverb that says being afraid of failure would only make you lose out more. To me, that means: “If you try, you may fail; if you don’t try, you will surely fail”.
In fact, working together with like-minded teammates at NuSpace is also a strong driving factor that encourages me to constantly push boundaries. Together, we envision a future where IoT is always available to ensure devices such as environment monitoring systems and emergency systems can communicate with each other in an efficient manner thereby saving cost and conserving energy.
I want to develop NuSpace to be the go-to company for global IoT connectivity as well as for satellite engineering services for the whole of Southeast Asia. We are already working with partners looking into how we can manufacture nanosatellites in bulk.
The next few years would be crucial for NuSpace as we will have to grow more efficient and cost-effective. Also, enlarging the team will be a challenge. We have a good crew now, but we need more like-minded people to scale with us.
I would like to do more to nurture young minds. NuSpace is currently running training programmes for schools on space systems and one of the courses require then to build their own balloon nanosatellites. These are then tethered to a balloon that is released up to 60m in the air. The students’ excitement and the sense of satisfaction shining on their faces always put a smile on my face.
NuSpace has kept me busy and I have not really thought about what’s next, but if it is challenging, engineering-related and fun, I am up for it. On a broader perspective, I expect the future to grow more digital and cars to go electric as this is the future of eco-friendly, efficient travel for the masses and the Audi e-tron series is a prime example.