Indonesia Invites SpaceX to Establish Launch Site in Country

Indonesian president Joko Widodo has reportedly invited SpaceX chief Elon Musk to establish a launch site in the southeast Asian country in a phone call. The country had previously announced plans to establish a spaceport on the island of Riak and having an up-and-coming aerospace country take advantage of the spaceport would be a major boost to Indonesia’s fledgling space industry.

Indonesia is currently courting several possible partners for the spaceport, although information on who may have committed is somewhat scanty. However, the country may be attractive to international aerospace companies and businesses like SiriusXM and DISH Network, whose services depend on satellites, who are interested in reducing launch costs.

SiriusXM recently used one of SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets to launch a new radio satellite, a move that likely saved the company millions of dollars besides the environmental friendliness of not disposing of the entire rocket into the ocean with every launch. Indonesia may be banking on the idea that SpaceX and its customers would like to bring down costs still further.

Several of Indonesia’s islands are located close to the equator, which could save costs for placing equatorial satellites in orbit because they could use less fuel to maneuver to their final orbital planes. The United States has also traditionally placed its launch centers as close to the equator as possible to take advantage of the free speed boost provided by the planet’s faster rotational speed close to the equator.

Widodo has also discussed possible investment opportunities in Indonesia for Tesla. Indonesia has a large reserve of nickel, which is an important metal for Tesla’s batteries. Musk is considering a visit to the country for possible future discussions for the future of both Tesla and SpaceX in the country, with details like dates for the visit and the agenda still to be determined. The Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment said in a statement:

“Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded to the invitation of Indonesian President Joko Widodo by planning to send his team to Indonesia in January 2021 to explore all the opportunities for this collaboration.”

Although Tesla already has deals with Canadian companies to provide nickel, it is also aggressively expanding its manufacturing capacity with Gigafactories being built in Germany and Texas. It has also acquired stakes in battery manufacturers that serve automakers such as German ATW Automation and LG Energy Solution. It may be looking to diversify its sources of nickel in order to better supply its battery manufacturing.

Would Elon Musk be interested in placing a launch site in Indonesia? It remains to be seen, but having a launch site that close to the equator may be beneficial to SpaceX’s push to bring launch costs down. The ability to reliably reuse rockets has already made it very competitive among companies that depend on satellites as part of their business models. Saving on fuel for placing satellites in an equatorial orbit may make it even more attractive.