The much hyped “Sri Lanka’s first satellite” is actually ChinaSat-12 launched by the Chinese to replace another communication satellite, ChinaSat-5A, that has completed its expected 15-year term. SupremeSat-I is one of several names for ChinaSat-12 (also called Zhongxing-12). According to the online spaceflight news site, part of ChinaSat-12′s communications payload has been leased to [...]


It’s ChinaSat-12 with a Lankan payload


The much hyped “Sri Lanka’s first satellite” is actually ChinaSat-12 launched by the Chinese to replace another communication satellite, ChinaSat-5A, that has completed its expected 15-year term.

SupremeSat-I is one of several names for ChinaSat-12 (also called Zhongxing-12). According to the online spaceflight news site, part of ChinaSat-12′s communications payload has been leased to Sri Lanka and co-branded as SupremeSat-I.

Businessman behind the country’s first satellite: R.M. Manivannan. Pic by Nilan Maligaspe

“Recently, SupremeSat entered into a partnership agreement with China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) for the design, manufacturing and launching of the SupremeSat-III satellite and also to secure the marketing facilities of many other satellites owned and operated by CGWIC and the China Satellites Communications Corporation,” the news site further stated.

It’s common practice to lease out portions if a satellite’s capacity is not fully used by the launching agency, astrophysicist Kavan Ratnatunga explained.

“It’s similar to Dialog leasing from foreign satellites for its satellite television services,” Dr. Ratnatunga told the Sunday Times. “If you track this particular satellite, it’s going by ChinaSat-12 but China has agreed to place the Lankan flag on it. Also, they’ve managed to get China to call it SupremeSat-I.”

SupremeGroup Chairman R.M. Manivannan said the company is not leasing anything.  “We have legally invested in this project,” he said. “This is a joint launch. There is ownership as we have invested in China. When you invest before launching, you want a part of it,” Mr. Manivannan said. SupremeSAT has an investment commitment of US $320 million spanning a five-year period. Mr. Manivannan said the “first phase of the project,” launching of SupremeSat-I, was an investment of US$ 100 million.

“Our investments are a combination of supplier credit arranged by an overseas commercial bank,” he said adding there were no government funds involved.

Mr. Manivannan did not disclose the name of the bank citing business secrecy reasons.  ChinaSat-12 was launched last Tuesday at 10.13 UTC (3.43 p.m. local time) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. Its purpose is to provide satellite broadcasting, data transmission, digital broadband multimedia system and media streaming for China, East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, the China Sea area and the Indian Ocean region.

The launch ceremony was attended by Scientific Affairs Senior Minister Tissa Vitharana and Ranjith Uyangoda, the Sri Lankan Ambassador to China. Soon after the launch, President Mahinda Rajapaksa released a statement endorsing the project.

“I share the pride and joy of all Sri Lankans as we move to the realm of space, as the rocket launched today, taking the SupremeSat-I satellite into orbit, carries our national flag into the new frontier of space,” the statement read. “I congratulate SupremeSAT (private) Limited for this great entrepreneurial venture that takes Sri Lanka to a new age in its development…”

Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies Chairman Lalith Gamage also released a statement endorsing the project.

“I was proud and honoured to be in China last week to witness the launch of SupremeSat-1, Sri Lanka’s first satellite, launched as a joint effort,” Prof. Gamage’s statement read. “…We are glad that SupremeSAT has taken this giant step of launching Sri Lanka’s own satellite,” he said.

Two more satellites to go into orbit, says Lankan businessman

By Bandula Sirimanna

The Sri Lankan entrepreneur behind the country’s first satellite that was sent into orbit on Tuesday says two more satellites would be launched – again from China – next year and in 2015.

Supreme Group of Sri Lanka Chairman R.M. Manivannan told the Sunday Times on Thursday that the three satellites are solely for commercial purposes and denied any political links or ‘hidden agendas’ in these developments.

Mr. Manivannan says that he first approached Indian companies to collaborate in this joint venture. “They were not interested. Then I went to China,” he said.

He said that while the first two satellites would be in Chinese airspace, the third satellite to be launched in December 2015 would be in Sri Lankan airspace for which an application has been made to the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRC).

TRC Chief Anusha Palpita confirmed that an application for this purpose had been received some time back. Mr. Manivannan said the application was made a couple of years ago.

Supreme SAT I will provide DTH services (direct to home television) to both local and overseas subscribers while the other two will expand the broadcasting portfolio, aid in uplinking, aimed at improving broadband internet services and connectivity in the country, he added.

Sri Lanka is the 45th country to own communication satellite globally and ranks third in South Asia after India and Pakistan. The company is currently negotiating with the Maldives and Afghanistan to build satellites for them. Mr. Manivannan said the rocket was built by the Chinese partner while a French firm was assigned to build the satellite.

The total investment for the project which includes three satellites and a satellite earth station and space academy in Pallekelle in Kandy is US$320 million, he said adding that the investment is spread over five years.

“In today’s world this is not a magic number to sit and worry. First of all I want every Sri Lankan to believe that such amounts can indeed be raised in the financial world and one need not think that it is only a government which can raise this amount of money,” he said, responding to questions about funding.
Supreme SAT-I costs nearly $100 million and its funding was arranged by way of supplier’s credit supported by a commercial bridge loan facility, he said. He did not elaborate.

Mr. Manivannan, whose main activity at the Supreme Group is commodities trading with countries in the region including India, said that Supreme Sat-1 is the joint venture’s own satellite and there is no government connection in the project.

The 39-year-old businessman who is now prepared to invest US $ 320 million (Rs. 48 billion) in the projects says he started a commodity trading business in a small way in 1990 after his father’s death when he was studying at Royal College, Colombo. He was involved in commodity trading in the South Asian region.
“At one time I used to buy coal from Uzbekistan and sell it to India. I was also supplying petroleum products to countries like Bangladesh,” he says. “I have acquired all my wealth through business”.

His business interests centers on re-insurance, shipping and logistics. During the period of the Sri Lankan conflict, Mr. Manivannan continued his regional trading in Colombo on a very low key. After the end of war he diversified his business into areas like mineral trading on a massive scale.

“The fact that we have become exclusive partners of many global companies will demonstrate that we are above the rest. We neither depend on the government nor the public to raise the money,” he says. He says his Supreme Group has mineral reserves in Sri Lanka (graphite) and valuable coal mines in Indonesia and Madagascar. The company recently signed an agreement with the Beijing Aerospace Great Wall Minerals Corporation wherein the mineral reserves held by the Supreme Group regionally would be assigned to the Chinese company for mining as well as future reserve enhancement purposes.

Mr. Manivannan either kept a low profile or was a hitherto unknown businessman until he announced the US$300 million satellite-cum-space academy project, a couple of months ago.

“From the very beginning we made it very clear to everyone that ours is a 100 per cent private venture. The initiative, the project, the funding and every effort made was totally from the private sector and this project has been an example for private sector driven growth in post-war Sri Lanka,” he said. Referring to the involvement of Rohitha Rajapaksa, the President’s son in the project, he said that Mr. Rajapaksa is a talented and capable space engineer without whom “we would never have made this huge success in such a short span of time”.

“His passion is space. He is qualified. He is dedicated and he is hard working,” Mr. Manivannan said while playing around with a toy globe on his table at his office in the World Trade Centre in Colombo Fort.
“I have no doubt that we make a great team and we will make our country reach greater heights in the very near future,” Mr. Manivannan said.

He pointed out that he had even invited Dr. Abdul Kalam, former Indian President, to take up the post of Honorary Chairman of the company – an offer the latter had “politely declined to accept”. “What more could a business enterprise do to ensure that the Indian interests are promptly looked after?” he asked.

Referring to the approval of the TRC, he said the delay in getting local approval was what led the company to launch a satellite in China instead. The application is pending with the TRC and it is a process which takes time as very correctly indicated by the TRC Chairman, he added.

In the interim, the company as an active business enterprise cannot just sit and wait for the next two years. “This is why we seized the opportunity of utilizing the ‘Chinese Orbital Slot’ and the rest is now history,” he said.

“Who on earth can stop the Chinese placing a satellite in their own slot?” he asked. “They could have done it anyway with or without our support or involvement. So, talking about selling the Sri Lankan sky to foreigners is baseless,” he added.

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