With barely a day left to the imminent launch of the first Singaporean to near-space, Mother Nature’s unpredictable antics have forced the highly anticipated mission to be delayed – and possibly for a long time.
The ambitious project was initiated by Mr Lim Seng, founder of Singapore-based technology firm IN.Genius, who pledges to send the first Singaporean past the Armstrong Line, a boundary that is 20km above sea-level, via high-altitude helium balloon.
Mr Lim had previously worked on Singapore’s first Air Force Operations Command Centre during his time at the Ministry of Defence and held various positions at the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company’s Corporate HQ, which is now known as Airbus Group.
Currently, he conducts near-space experimentation for scientific applications at IN.Genius where he also works on his self-funded project – named GoSpace – to send a Singaporean towards the heavens.
The launch was slated to take place at Alice Springs, Australia, on May 15 at 4.30am (Singapore time) – that is, if everything went according to plan.
However, undesirable “weather patterns” forced the launch to be cancelled a day before the intended lift-off time.
According to an official statement posted on GoSpace’s Facebook page on Monday (May 14), IN.Genius said: “Unfortunately, the launch on 15th May (0600hrs AST) will not go ahead due to high jet stream winds along the planned flight path.”
“Over the past few weeks, the launch team has been monitoring atmospheric winds which unfortunately at 12km above sea level are forecast to be 112 knots (207km/h) on launch day. This will create too much wind shear that could put the astronaut in great danger.”
IN.Genius highlighted that despite studying wind patterns in the area for the past three to four years during the period from April to May, the jet stream this year came unexpectedly early and posed a threat to GoSpace’s “very large and delicate helium balloon”.
The tech firm added that based on expert opinion and team findings, it would likely take another six to 12 months before environmental conditions become more favourable and the next window of opportunity for launch could be opened.
This would mean a long wait for astronaut hopeful Yip Chuang Syn, a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) pilot with more than 20 years of flying experience and GoSpace project’s chosen candidate to be the first Singaporean in near-space.
Yip was hand-picked from a group of 150 Singaporean candidates who vied for the prestigious position of Singapore’s first astronaut.
He had to undergo a tough training programme which included diving, advanced paragliding, dealing with claustrophobia at high altitude and acclimatisation to oxygen-rich air supply should hypoxia set in during the voyage.
But, as tough as Yip might be, the risk was still too great to allow the mission to continue.
In a WhatsApp response to Business Insider which was later posted in IN.Genius’ Facebook statement, Mr Lim said: “This is primordial for the safety of the astronaut, and to be responsible to his family, and be always professional in our conduct. We shall not be governed by the clock nor perception of third parties, but only keep focusing on flight safety.”
Nonetheless, he remains deeply optimistic, refusing to deem the launch delay a complete failure of the project.
“Weather factors are non-negotiable, and not permitting safe launch should not be mistaken as a launch failure,” he said.
“To be clear and to better articulate, it is not about ‘failure’…to launch, but all about doing the right thing and doing the thing right.”
To Mr Lim, the future of his project still shines bright like stars.