Space is still very young. It’s in its most nascent stages because most of the space industry hasn’t actually been proven. Much of what we see today in terms of the large space companies are just dipping their toes in the water. They're just barely getting their feet wet and they are all announcing plans to go much bigger. Everything is still relatively up for grabs. In terms of Southeast Asia itself, we are actually naturally advantaged because of our geographical position, our proximity to the equator renders us very advantageous- Chan Yuk Chi
Yuk Chi is a published space lawyer, startup founder, On Deck alumnus, and former Army logistics officer. He is currently working on a stealth-mode project that will democratise access to orbit by uncomplicating the space mission planning process. He is also (in no particular order) a high school dropout, the survivor of a ruptured lung from his days in the Service, and a published science fiction author.
As a space lawyer, Yuk Chi focuses on space sustainability, orbital debris mitigation policy, and smallsat regulation. His work has been published by Springer Nature and the European Space Agency, and he is one of the youngest Singaporeans to speak at the United Nations.
Yuk Chi heads two research and advisory teams in the Space Generation Advisory Council, and recently led a group to advise the government of the Republic of Uganda on their draft national space policy and legislation. He is also currently working with Donaldson & Burkinshaw LLP, Singapore’s oldest law firm, to help them establish their groundbreaking new space law practice.
Jeremy Au: (00:30)
Welcome to the show, Yuk Chi.
Chan Yuk Chi: (00:31)
Thank you for having me.
Jeremy Au: (00:33)
I’m excited to share about your story because you are one of the few people from Southeast Asia tackling space, especially with your background in space law, as well as the fact that you’re a writer and your love for science fiction. So, a lot of things to talk about as well as your upcoming founder journey as well.
Chan Yuk Chi: (00:51)
Yeah, more than happy to share. As you’ve mentioned, I am a space lawyer by trade, I am a published space lawyer, I’m also a founder, and prior On-Deck alumnist, participated in the On-Deck writing fellowship. As you’ve mentioned right now, I am working on a stealth mode project that is aiming to democratize access to orbit by uncomplicating the space mission planning process. I was, I like to claim that I am, but I haven’t written any science fiction recently, but I like to claim that I am a science fiction author. So, previously, my work has been published by Springer Nature as well as the European Union Space Agency, that would be my academic work. I have also presented at conferences, delivered lectures, and I’m also one of the youngest Singaporeans to speak at the UN. Recently I delivered a small speech at the UN on space law. I also head two research and advisory teams with a global NGO called the space generation advisory council. What we do is we do space law research work on national implementing legislative measures as well as space sustainability, so, I recently also advised the government of Uganda on their draft space policy and legislation because Uganda is looking to get into the space game. At present, I’m with Donaldson & Burkinshaw here in Singapore, so, Donaldson & Burkinshaw is Singapore’s oldest law firm and I’m working with them to build up an exciting new space law practice area.
Jeremy Au: (02:17)
Could you share how you got started in space? How did your love of space begin?
Chan Yuk Chi: (02:20)
Well, I think I’ve always been a fan of space, I’ve always loved science fiction since I was a kid, so I think it started in 2002. My dad brought me to go see Star Wars Episode 2 on opening night and I was just hooked instantly. We bought the tickets late, so we had to sit in the front row, but, honestly, it was just such a mesmerizing experience. There’s that scene at the end where it’s just light sabers flashing in the dark. It was incredible. That was the start of my science fiction journey. I’ve been fascinated with space and science fiction ever since, and then I bridged into law because I wasn’t very good at math in school, but I was fairly good at speaking. So, I went into law and I’ve always been trying to find a way to make those two interests dovetail. A while back, I was offered an opportunity to cofound a startup working on space, for which they needed a space lawyer and I didn’t really hesitate, I just jumped right in because space is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world. As you understand, all of space tech is what we call double use which means that it can be easily militarized, and because of that, controls and regulations on space technology all over the world are very tightly controlled. As such, they needed somebody who understood regulatory environment and could navigate everything successfully and that’s how I got started, and I’ve been doing that ever since.
Jeremy Au: (03:50)
Amazing. There you are, I totally resonate because I, myself, remember my dad taking me out for Episode 1 on opening night and I remember the theatre being very jubilant about the return of Star Wars and it’s very interesting to see a lot of that maturation of that Star Wars ecosystem. In fact, I was watching Star Wars since last night. I think I was watching the bad batch on Disney plus
Chan Yuk Chi: (04:11)
Jeremy Au: (04:16)
Can you tell us a bit more about science fiction before we go into the space side as well. What is it about science fiction that drew you in as a kid, that made you start out on space?
Chan Yuk Chi: (04:30)
So, one of the things that’s always fascinated me about science fiction is this enduring theme of human nature that it’s almost as if the science fiction setting is set dressing or an opportunity to allow our inner humanity to manifest itself in a different way because of different existential circumstances, and I think that’s one of the interesting things to me that no matter how far we go in the galaxy, no matter how much time passes, we are fundamentally still human and we still have those sorts of human traits that we that we see span across the eons. On a certain level, I think it is a bit egocentric of us because we’re projecting our own belief systems into the future and the past. But I also think that on the other hand, there is an element of truth there, and that element of truth, that element of consistency, points us toward what it truly means to be human.
Jeremy Au: (05:20)
What’s interesting is that there are a lot of people who watch science fiction and they don’t go into space, as an industry. So, what happened right here?
Chan Yuk Chi: (05:30)
Well yeah, like I said, so I got offered at an opportunity to cofound a startup that was working on space so and it was almost like one of those epiphany moments where everything just comes together, it’s very serendipitous, and I saw, in that, an opportunity to really make my mark on the real world and do the things that I loved using the skills that I had. The irony is, of course, that actual space, the actual commercial space industry is nothing like science fiction, it is not even remotely close. So, you know, joke’s on me. I think that their enduring passion and that drive, that exploratory drive to go out and see what else is out there and expand our foothold into the universe as a species? I think that is ultimately what I gained from science fiction and what carried me into the space industry.
Jeremy Au: (06:24)
Let’s walk through the chronology a little bit. There you were, just like every Singaporean male, called to serve the motherland as a battalion staff officer and then after that you joined law, which makes sense and were you already looking at space along the way or was it only when Anchor Orbital came knocking that you got swung into the space?
Chan Yuk Chi: (06:49)
Yeah, it was only when Anchor Orbital came knocking, really. Actually, fun fact, when I was in law school, I wanted to be a constitutional lawyer, so that’s why I specialized in human rights and public law and administrative law. That was a big thing for me for a long while and I do love constitutional law. It is one of those things that I’ve discovered a deep passion for and, in fact, my first book publication which was about the rule of law on Mars. The rule of law is a constitutional law concept, it is one of the most fundamental tenets of democratic legal systems the world over. Even now I'm trying to import in those constitutional law lessons that I learned, but, no, I didn't start out with space law. It was an adaptive response to what I had to do in order to go along on this adventure.
Jeremy Au: (07:34)
Okay, my visualization is – here’s someone who loves to watch Star Wars, is a lawyer deep in constitutional law and then a space company somehow reaches out to you and says, here’s an opportunity and you’re like, yes, I actually love space way more than the current track of constitutional law. Is that a fair paraphrase of what happened or…?
Chan Yuk Chi: (07:54)
Yeah, essentially. There was actually a little bit of a middle section right after I graduated, I got it in my head that I wanted to do a PhD in AI law and policy. So, I spent a few months doing that. I applied for my PhD and then Anchor Orbital came knocking and I was like, well, I think I’d rather do this. So, I dropped PhD plans, I went, and I jumped. Head first, eyes closed, can’t lose!
Jeremy Au: (08:19)
Basically YOLO, right? Were you already writing science fiction already then, or was it later?
Chan Yuk Chi: (08:28)
Yes, I’ve been writing science fiction for about 10 years now and I think it started off as a creative outlet as well as a means for me to reach out into the world because I think when you grow up, especially when you grow up in Singapore, you get…we live in a little bit of a bubble, I think, and everything is provided for on our little island, and there isn’t really all that much impetus to move out or to seek out other things. I think writing science fiction was my first real attempt at reaching out into the wider world and interacting with wider world. Of course, when I enlisted, then it became an outlet for me to sort of process, all the experiences that I was going through and understand and come to terms with what I was going through in a setting that I was comfortable with and that I could comprehend much more readily. I think that’s mainly what science fiction has been since the army. It’s been that back processing of a backlog of memories and thoughts and trying to build something constructive out of that.
Jeremy Au: (09:35)
What’s your favourite piece that you’ve written and why?
Chan Yuk Chi: (09:39)
Piece that I’ve written…let’s see…I’ve got two pieces that I think would rank as my favourite. One of them was published by the Ministry of Education in like a little collective anthology that they did a few years back and the other, I recently published on my Substack, just because. The first one was about an engineer who’s on a deep space voyage when his ship gets raided by bandits and everybody on the ship dies, except him. He's in this ship that's limping, and all he has for company is the shipboard AI, and it's just a journey of their development and their relationship as it grows, because obviously she's an AI. She's not real, she's a facsimile, but it's mostly a story about how this engineer in his in this, crushing, oppressive, lonely atmosphere where you know hope is effectively lost; how he finds and creates devices for him to cling onto so that he can keep going. The second piece is just about…honestly, it’s just really weird piece. It’s just about an ML algorithm that is used to help people process memories and it’s about that internal perspective of not knowing the inherent value or meaning of anything but just understanding things as they correlate to others. If I had to choose, those would probably be my top two.
Jeremy Au: (11:01)
Amazing. I’m just kind of curious because I’m also a nerd who loves reading science fiction. Who are your favourite authors, let’s say top three?
Chan Yuk Chi: (11:09)
Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, and my third favourite author is actually Hemingway, so, not a sci-fi author, but definitely the first two, Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury…oh, third one would probably be Joe Haldeman
Jeremy Au: (11:20)
Very nice. I think I’ve been really appreciative actually of Anne Lackey actually recently there’s a great series as well, and primarily because I think she has a very interesting take on as a fresh female sci-fi author and obviously have all these various Hugo and Galaxy Awards, and I think Lucy Sing also has been nice and refreshing as an Asian author tackling that and also I actually really like, I’ll say, old school Isaac Asimov, the Foundation series, probably, and, of course, Ender’s Game as well. That’s another one, the whole series.
Chan Yuk Chi: (11:52)
I know that everybody loves foundation. Personally, my favourite has to be “I, Robot”.
Jeremy Au: (11:57)
Oooooooooooh. I’m the opposite. I couldn’t like the I, Robot series. I went Foundation series. A psycho history, basically pushed me towards learning Economics. I think I liked that macro view, but I definitely understand the I, Robot dynamic as well. It’s more ethics and humanistic discussion around the future.
Chan Yuk Chi: (12:16)
I think that’s actually an interesting observation because I have actually, personally, found that I tend towards those sort of smaller scale stories. I quite like stuff that’s on the grand scales like Foundation or Canticle for Leibowitz, but there’s just something about character centric stories that gets me. I’ve always found myself trending more towards that rather than grand space operas which is ironic because I love Star Wars.
Jeremy Au: (12:43)
Star Wars is the gateway drug for science fiction, yeah, I’ve read a lot of science fiction along the way. Obviously, I think Star Wars does a good job actually tackling all of those different aspects of it, from the character to the grand arcs as well. Let’s talk about the gap between perception of space as in science fiction versus the reality versus the space industry. I’ll love to dig deeper into that. Could you explain the differences?
Chan Yuk Chi: (13:13)
I think one of the first major misconceptions is that everything is about launch services and rockets and such. It really isn't. Launch services actually comprises, in terms of market share, one of the smallest components of the overall space industry. It comprises a very small percentage of satellite services which form the bulk of value, but even then, it's just a fraction. So, it’s a fraction of a fraction is just because their rockets are the most publicly visible thing, but every aspect of our lives is touched by space, if we think about, you know very plain or easy to see applications like Google Maps, stuff like that is informed by satellite imagery and satellite information. But we also think of things like tracking the weather. The average farmer today utilizes a ton of satellite imagery and satellite information and intelligence because they use it to track weather patterns. They use it to track in order to safeguard their crops. Insurers today for large areas of property that they underwrite, they rely on space derived intelligence as well. A lot of the space industry is not lasers and rockets and all the fun stuff that we commonly think of. It’s actually comparatively…I don’t want to say pedestrian, but it is essentially very boring stuff and that is one of those long unstated goals of the space industry. We are looking to make space boring like how maritime trade today is fairly boring, but it used to be the bees knees. Same thing we’re looking to make space more boring than it was before, which is not really something that you hear all that often, especially in regard to the popular prevailing narrative about space.
Jeremy Au: (14:46)
Yeah, it’ll be a boring movie if the ship worked and had failsafes that worked and could get from point A to point B without a catastrophic depressurisation event or something else like that.
Chan Yuk Chi: (14:58)
Yeah, I think one of the most realistic depictions of a comparatively boring phenomenon is Gravity. You’ve seen Gravity, right? So, you know that part where Sandra Bullock’s space shuttle gets shredded by a chunk of debris, that is a real thing. That is actually a real problem that we’re facing today in the space industry, debris mitigation and just orbital pollution. When you say it like that, it doesn’t sound very exciting. It sounds very faraway and distant because it is. It is literally physically distant from our everyday lives because this stuff is at least 500 kilometers up. But it is a major issue that is a pressing concern, it’s a prescient concern, and there is somewhat of a reckoning coming, I think, if the space industry continues with its current unsustainable practices, the good thing is that everybody is jumping onto the space sustainability train. Everybody is recognizing the urgency of the situation and they’re taking steps to correct it; states and private actors. In terms of what that disconnect between public perception and what is the reality of it? I don’t think space sustainability features very prominently in the minds of most people when they think about space, but it certainly features in the minds of most people in the industry.
Jeremy Au: (16:10)
Yeah, and what’s interesting and I would love to go deeper, if you would be willing to humour me, is, obviously, a lot of the pollution, everything is happening ‘cause of the tragedy of the commons, so the space is this giant space where nobody has private ownership rights and so people just throw trash in there, effectively, and it’s somebody else’s problem in aggregate. I’m so curious because it feels like that like 2 futures in every science fiction story, but also from every corner mystery which is - is space really a public domain for it to be shared by everybody, or should it be more of a private domain and property rights equivalent? What’s your perspective on that?
Chan Yuk Chi: (16:52)
Okay. So, this actually does segue quite nicely into my space law practice. The fundamental basis actually, of all of space law and consequently space activity, is the principle of the freedom of exploration and use. So, it’s clearly stated in article one or the Outer Space Treaty, which is the foundational document on which all space laws built and that space is free. Space is free to explore and to use, and that there is a general principle of non-appropriation. So, no state is allowed to lay claim to any part of space. Of course, as we understand property rights, it’s one of those things that falls under the wider principle of “Nemo Dat Non Quod Habet”. Which is, essentially, you can’t give away what you don’t own. So, the interesting dilemma surrounding the granting of property rights in space is the question of who is competent to give said rights, because based on what we understand in law today, nobody is competent. It is a bit of an open-ended question, so last year, NASA…well, the previous NASA administrator, Jim Breidenstein, he announced a program by NASA to spur further commercial activity wherein it was an open contract for any companies that wanted to go to the moon and bring back lunar regolith, NASA would pay for it. They’re not even really using the regolith for much, to be honest, because they have plenty of moon rock samples, as I understand, they understand the chemical composition of the moon fairly well. All that it was designed to do was just spur a space economy around resource exploitation and spur lunar economy. But the question is if you are buying this regolith from the private company, you are implying that the private company has the right to sell the regolith, in which case the question is who gave them that right? So, it is still somewhat of an open question. We haven’t had to deal with it yet because the first missions that are aiming to bring back the regolith aren’t going to be back for a couple of years. I think there is one Israeli company that immediately jumped on it, and I think that it’s slated to launch in ‘22 or ‘23. So yeah, that will be an interesting question to deal with. Short answer, I honestly have no idea. I think that space should remain an open and free space because otherwise you do run into the issue of national appropriation, and we’ve seen elsewhere how that could end up. The Antarctica was it was a great example of how we very nearly came to a place where national interests overrode the common scientific good and it’s only through the grace and the courage of a few scientists who stood up and rallied public support against the national governments that sought to appropriate Antarctic territory that we were able to avoid that situation, on the other hand, I also recognize that it is almost impossible to spur further economic activity in space if you don’t grant property rights, and nobody wants to fund an expensive asteroid mining mission if you can’t be guaranteed that you will make some money off of it, and so I think a balance does have to be struck and it is a very relevant question for this next decade in terms of what should space lawyers be thinking about.
Jeremy Au: (20:02)
Yeah, and, obviously, I’m not a lawyer. This one, I’m more of an economics and history nerd here and so, this is very much of the classic old world/new world exploration where governments decide whether they’re going to self-fund public expeditions, or whether they will allow privatized corporations effectively, with, of course, state sponsorship and backing and guarantees to go out there. Like you said, it’s hard to set up an asteroid mining operation if the company doesn’t know that asteroid is theirs, and conversely, you and I could understand and say like if someone said hey, if you land on Mars, you get a 20 by 20 kilometre patch that’s yours like the Wild Wild West go West in America then every rocket ship is on its way to plant a little flag to order little piece of Martian property for the next millennia, right?
Chan Yuk Chi: (20:57)
Yeah, I think from an economics perspective, I think that the prior experiment of quasi state run corporations like the East India Company and the West Indies Company, I think those are very informative or illustrative of what sort of shape I think our extra-terrestrial efforts will take. It will definitely have to be state backed, not least because of the way that current space law is structured, so here’s a little fun space fact for you - everything in space that operates at the national level. So, if today we were to launch a satellite and we were very reckless or careless about it and that satellite happened to smash into the ISS and wreck the ISS and kill everybody aboard. We wouldn’t be personally liable. The Government of Singapore would be personally liable as well as the government of whichever territory from which we launched the satellite. So, because of the way that liability works in space law, any effort at an extra-terrestrial mission will have to be state sponsored by that virtue alone.
Jeremy Au: (21:59)
I love that. Just the concept of the rebirth of EIC in space. Now, that’s a movie I want to watch. I want to watch that series and we’ll have space pirates and space bacteria is the local natives, I guess.
Chan Yuk Chi: (22:15)
It is a bit of a terrifying prospect. I certainly hope that we will do things more responsibly in the future and I would like to think that we, as a species, have learnt our lessons from our past mistakes. When Mars is that far away, anything tends to be a situation of anything goes.
Jeremy Au: (22:30)
Yeah, you know what's interesting, of course, is that here you are building out this career and you feel like one of the few Southeast Asians to really be tackling this, right? You mentioned this government Singapore, and of course Singapore is trying, but it's not a huge thing versus, obviously, the States and everything. So how do you feel about that? Is that historical inevitability that Southeast Asia is the boondocks of our space based on the trajectory of how space is building out or do you see that as an open space for Southeast Asia to get into?
Chan Yuk Chi: (23:01)
I think that space is an industry even though it has ostensibly existed for coming on 40 ish years now with the first sort of commercial space activity taking place in the 80s, I think even with that sort of heritage, space is still very young. It’s in its most nascent stages because most of the space industry hasn’t actually been proven. So, much of what we see today in terms of the large space companies are just dipping their toes in the water. They're just barely getting their feet wet and they are all announcing plans to go much bigger. So, I think everything is still relatively up for grabs. I think in terms of Southeast Asia itself, we are actually naturally advantaged because of our geographical position, our proximity to the equator renders us very advantageous to set for spaceports and launch sites because we offer direct access to equatorial orbits. Now, there are different discussions on the merits of different types of orbits. A sun synchronous orbit will be along the Y axis and equatorial is of course along the X. But, fact is that, at present, we have sufficient sun synchronous or polar orbital launch capability in the form of the northern countries. We don’t have a whole lot of Equatorial launch sites. There are roughly about two – Florida, Cape Canaveral, and Australia and, even then, Australia is still further south than us, so you could do better to be honest, so I think that there is space for us. There is space for Southeast Asia. Indonesia, I know, is looking to capitalize on that. Easy access to equatorial orbit by proposing a spaceport in Papua in...I think it’s called Biak. So, they are looking at it in terms of us, Singapore, specifically. I think that we have, of course very prescient geopolitical concerns. We are somewhat smaller, and there isn’t a whole lot of space to start launching satellites from, but I think that we still have a part to play. We can have a part to play, and it would be very similar to the part that we’ve been playing in many other industries because, ultimately, we have a pool of highly skilled, highly talented workers who are capable of performing service activities. Everything that’s ancillary to a satellite launch mission, because, yeah, satellite launch mission isn’t just rockets and satellites. There’s a whole lot else that goes into it.
Jeremy Au: (25:22)
That’ll be a nice dream. Imagine, in front of your home, watching satellites go up every week, looking through a large window. That’ll be nice, huh?
Chan Yuk Chi: (25:39)
I think the folks at Boca Chica might disagree with you slightly. I think once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all and, after a while, it gets a bit annoying. It’s kind of like how people keep complaining that fighter jets are flying overhead. At first, it’s a novelty. After a while, it gets to be a bit of a bore.
Jeremy Au: (25:44)
Yeah, well, there you are. It’s like one of those science fiction tv-series. I guess they don’t mind the noise pollution then.
Chan Yuk Chi: (25:56)
A silent rocket, that will be the next big revolution in launch technology – a silent rocket.
Jeremy Au: (26:02)
Yeah. Not sure what the incentives to build that would be. Let’s talk about that. We see a lot of domestic activity in Singapore and Southeast Asia where folks are tinkering with their national satellite projects. I think they have that process and some national pride and patriotism there and, of course, there’s some commercial activity where there’s like leasing of capacity in private sector initiatives and I think you started mentioning about the possibility of there being startup activity in space in Singapore and Southeast Asia. What do you mean by that? Shouldn’t every rocket scientist be it India, China, Russia, or America, does Southeast Asia have enough space talents or even right incentives to put together a space industry?
Chan Yuk Chi: (26:58)
Well, like I said, I think that space industry isn’t just physicists and rocket engineers. In fact, the thing that I’ve noticed and this might seem somewhat counter intuitive, the one sort of skill set that doesn’t have any sort of shortfall in the space industry are physicists and engineers. In fact, what we are lacking are all the other skills, particularly software development, but also other ancillary things, operational capabilities, and those skill sets needed to actually successfully run missions and run businesses. Business development, legal is one major gap and, incidentally, all of these skill sets are the same sort of things that I think Singapore is always traditionally excelled at. They’re not capital intensive, they don’t require actual hardware to be on the ground; these are effectively, people skills, and that is the one thing that we that we have in abundance. We have people who are skilled who are capable of learning who are willing to learn, and all of these roles can be performed remotely so that just opens up a whole world of possibilities in which Singapore can be involved in the space industry. Not necessarily as a rocket launching state, or you know, not necessarily as a space faring state, but nonetheless there is still that back end or sometimes even front end support role for us.
Jeremy Au: (28:19)
Can’t wait to see space UX designers, space marketers, space growth hackers. That’ll be fun to see.
Chan Yuk Chi: (28:27)
Yeah, they actually already exist. They are an interesting bunch to say the least. They deal with very interesting problems. I think most of them have quite a lot of fun. Just because the subject matter itself is exciting.
Jeremy Au: (28:39)
Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I mean, I always remember looking at the new SpaceX uniforms, and I was like wow, that must be fun to update those uniforms you know, did they pull someone off from Hollywood? Must have pulled up a bunch of stills from other various like science fiction shows? What would look rad, you know, on top of, of course, being functional and actually utilitarian that way.
Chan Yuk Chi: (28:59)
Yeah exactly. I think that there are plenty of roles for a skilled, talented workforce in the space industry that don’t necessarily have to do with rockets and such. Of course, that is not to disparage our talented engineers because we do have a number of talented engineers. In fact, I’ve actually come across quite a few Singaporeans in my time not working here but working in various different organizations like the European Space Agency. They’re just there doing their thing and it’s always fun to encounter them in the wild.
Jeremy Au: (29:26)
Let’s talk about that, which is that you know you’re starting to talk about something interesting which is that in the past, space industry has always been very national centric, right? I mean obviously NASA at a time you know everything belonging to one agency in the US and obviously the European side and then the Russians and then now it’s starting to spread into the private sector and but still very geographically bound. Now you’re talking about something interesting which is talking about it being remote as well. So, let’s talk about that. Where do you see the future of the ability to work in the space industry? What does that look like from your perspective?
Chan Yuk Chi: (30:02)
Well, I think the first thing would be to delineate the concept of the space industry because I think it’s very tempting to think of it as a monolith, which, of course, isn’t like any other industry, it has its nooks and crannies, has many, many silos because the space industry is very heavily siloed. But when I think of the future of the space industry, I think of aggregation. I think that we will start trying to bring together all these disparate subsectors; we’ll be able to connect them ‘cause I think right now one of the major issues is transaction costs. Just because you waste so much time and effort liaising with all these different stakeholders on any given satellite mission. You have at the very minimum, nine groups of stakeholders, so if you imagine just the sheer amount running back and forth, you have to do as the operator, it’s it is a very daunting task. The thing about space, any sort of pureplay space venture. They’re not generating any value or revenue if they’re not in orbit. If they don’t have assets up there, if the assets are on the ground, they’re sitting there, it is a money sink and that is of course why launch delays are so deadly to so many satellite companies because that puts off the entire timeline that messes with their runway and their burn rate. So, I think that the future of the space industry will be aggregation. I think part of enabling that aggregation will be to enable remote services because you want to be able to bring in the best from wherever it is they are on Earth. You don’t want it to be necessarily constrained to territory you have brought up a very relevant point, which is that space has traditionally always been deeply tied with national security concerns, and it is still that same way in the United States because of the way that US export control regime works. US space companies are not allowed to hire non-US nationals, which is why I think you might have heard before that SpaceX only hires American citizens. It’s not just because of the talent pool in the States and you know that long heritage. It’s also because the law literally prohibits them from hiring anybody else. So, I think given the sheer size of the American space market, the law would have to change in order for that vision of mine to come true. Wherein can aggregate talent from all over the globe, whether or not it will change. I think is very up in the air. It’s very much up to the sort of capricious nature of Congress to decide on in respect of all the other places on Earth which don’t have these sorts of restrictions. So Europe certainly doesn’t. India doesn’t, and China actually doesn’t, but China’s laws are currently some of a patchwork and I think they quite like it that way, although I have heard that they are intending to produce omnibus legislation that clearly sets everything out, but I think they’re still in their learning phase where they’re deciding what best practices should they actually codify in law so nobody else has these sorts of restrictions, unlike the Americans. So, I think that the rest of the world is capable of getting on with this aggregative exercise, and I think, sooner or later, the Americans will catch on as well.
Jeremy Au: (33:06)
Speaking about a Chinese and US. Obviously there seems to be like the two and a half horse race. You know, globally, right, US and China and then everybody else is like the .54 as a multipolar slash in ambivalent slash nonaligned countries dynamic. Do you feel like that’s gonna reflect in space as well, like that multipolar aspect around space exploration, law, industry activity?
Chan Yuk Chi: (33:34)
I think we are already seeing some indication of that. As you pointed out earlier, space used to be very much for national prestige project and I would argue that it’s still very much is for new space states like Israel. You can see that it is still very inherently tied to national identity and national pride which is to be expected because it’s space. The final frontier. It’s one of those things that you feel that swell of national pride in that drive to start waving a flag. So, I think that a multi-polar environment is inevitable when you still have that sort of dynamic in play. I think that China’s recent prominence on the space stage because I wouldn’t call it emergence. China has been doing a fair amount of things in space for quite some time. I think it’s just that, recently, they’re doing more publicly prominent things, and that’s why we are starting to see a bit more attention paid to them, and it seems to be almost like a new space race type of dynamic. But yeah, I think that’s a bit of a misconception. China has always been there. The Chinese space program dates back to even the original space race between the Soviets and states. I think that because of China’s recent emergence, you’re starting to see a bit of a policy shift back into that nationalist state on the part of the Americans. The European Space Agency is also doing its novel best to advance its objectives in the ways that it sees most suitable. So of course, the European Space Agency has its own priorities, so as NASA, so as the CNSA, to an extent, so does Roscosmos, even though they’ve somewhat fallen by the wayside in recent years, they are still there and they are still very much relevant. So, I think yes, we absolutely will see a multi polar environment, at least in the near future. I can’t speak as the distant future, so China recently announced its plans to put a crewed mission on Mars by 2033, I think. I don’t know what the space environment will look like by 2033. I don’t know if we will have abandoned these national ideals or the yeah, this this entire angle of national prestige and pride, at least to some extent, or whether or not we will double down. I think that is very much something that we have to wait and see for.
Jeremy Au: (35:51)
Oooooo. That’s the science fiction authors and readers in us trying to do some predictions here. Let’s see. I’ll make a prediction. My prediction is that the Americans are gonna try to beat the Chinese to Mars on the crewed mission.
Chan Yuk Chi: (36:07)
That’s absolutely going to happen. I think it’s definitely going to be a very competitive environment, at least in the short to medium term. I think there are a few schools of thought on this, actually, on what international interaction will be like on the in space and what drives that. I think that thus far, most players, or, at least, insofar as the Soviets and the Americans are concerned, both of them recognized that cooperation was ultimately the best path forward because of the inherent ends of intrinsic physical and environmental restraints that space imposes ‘cause space is a very hazardous environment. Space is very unforgiving environment and it helps to have friends in that regard. But with some of the advancements that we’ve seen in the last few years. Who knows, maybe that dynamic is going to change. Maybe will return to a future of technological determinism. Yeah, I can’t say. But yes, I absolutely agree. The Americans are definitely going to want to beat the Chinese.
Jeremy Au: (37:05)
I mean, that’s a trope of all science fiction is that technology is now version 7.37 and humans are still version 0.1 alpha and that’s the crux of it. Every good science fiction story is not just man versus nature in the sense of technology, but really man versus self.
Chan Yuk Chi: (37:25)
Yeah, it’s always man versus self, man versus man, because I guess we just can’t help ourselves.
Jeremy Au: (37:30)
Yep, we can help ourselves. You heard it here first. Our prediction is that Americans are going to try to beat the Chinese, in case you didn’t already know that, right? That’ll be a fun one to watch. So, I guess we’ll go revisit this podcast episode in about a dozen years, maybe even sooner than that.
Chan Yuk Chi: (37:50)
I certainly hope we’ll still be around to revisit this podcast in a dozen years, and hopefully nothing has gone too badly.
Jeremy Au: (37:57)
And just wrapping things up here, could you share with us a time where you had to be brave to overcome an obstacle or challenges?
Chan Yuk Chi: (38:04)
Yeah, absolutely. So, I think I’m going to take us back to the army because I love wheeling this story out. When I was in the army and when I just entered Officer Cadet School, I actually suffered a very bad medical emergency so my lung ruptured and collapsed inside of my chest and I had to be sent to the emergency room. I didn’t report sick for about three days ‘cause I just thought it was a regular muscle ache, and then when I showed up in the emergency room, they did an X-ray and they immediately put me on oxygen mask and he said you might not have known this, but your lung is collapsing inside your chest. And yeah, interestingly enough, because I took three days to report it, I did actually manage to re inflate my own lung to a certain extent such that I didn’t immediately require surgery, so that was…that was fun. So yeah, I was immediately downgraded like my medical status was downgraded and I was no longer combat fit. I was downgraded to the lowest possible PES status, which is E9L9 and it was slated as a temporary status at first, but slated to become permanent, and I really, really didn’t want that, so I went to three different lung specialists or respiratory specialists, and I had them clear me for training and say, yeah, this guy is fine here. He can go back no problem. Even though the entire time I was still grappling with a fair amount of pain. Because what ultimately happened was that around the site of the rupture, some scar tissue developed and it’s still there today. So, what tends to happen sometimes it’s it was a lot more prominent than not less so now, although it does to come into play from time to time. That scar tissue actually sticks to the chest wall, and it’s just agony. It’s so bad it feels like a heart attack, but on steroids, so yeah, but despite that, I knew what I wanted to do during national service, I knew what I wanted to get out of it and I figured if I had to spend two years doing this, I might as well get something out of it. So, I pushed very hard. I eventually got my medical status upgraded back to combat fit, and then I went back into OCS and, of course, I finished it. I barely limped past the finish line. It was an ordeal and a half; is not great. It was very uncomfortable, but I forced myself through it. Yeah, and I now looking back. I’m very thankful that I did.
Jeremy Au: (40:20)
Amazing. What a way to wrap up this podcast episode. I would love to paraphrase the three big themes that I got from you.
The first, of course, is thank you so much for sharing your personal journey into space as the final frontier. And there’s the first frontier as a kid to your love of Star Wars to writing science fiction into how you actually got into the space industry, as a professional in terms of both law as well as a founder so that’s really been an interesting journey to hear and listen to.
The second, of course, was I think I love that little dynamic where we got to go deeper into the future of space. Have this interesting legal but also historical view on the future of space and property rights and tragedy of the commons and I guess our little predictions about how it develops. So, I guess one is the East India Company future of space and the second being that the Americans trying to one up the Chinese and vice versa on the Mars Landing.
And the third, thank you so much. It’s really kind of like that little bit of a conversation about how Southeast Asia could continue to play a role in the space industry, not just as a function of national push and patriotism, to build it out, but also because of how the space industry is starting to spread out and become more distributed and open up opportunities to more great folks from around the world, including Southeast Asia. Thank you so much you, Yuk Chi, for coming on the show.
Chan Yuk Chi: (41:45)
Yeah, it’s lovely to be here. I had a tonne of fun. I loved talking about space, sometimes too much; I tend to bore the living daylights out of everybody around me, so it’s great to have a fresh pair of ears to drone on into
Jeremy Au: (41:56)
Awesome, thank you so much.
Chan Yuk Chi: (41:58)
Yeah, thank you for having me.