Jokowi’s proposal to set up a rocket launch site for SpaceX in Indonesia is primarily meant to show the country’s openness to other partnerships with Elon Musk. Indonesia’s massive nickel reserves hold significant value for Tesla as the company seeks supplies for battery production.
By Umair Jamal
Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has invited Elon Musk, the owner of the US space exploration company SpaceX, to assess the possibility of setting up a rocket launch site in the Southeast Asian country.
For now, Musk has decided to explore investment opportunities in Indonesia’s electric car battery market.
Indonesia is an attractive market for Musk as the country’s massive nickel reserves offer an abundant and low-cost supply of a vital mineral for his electric vehicle company Tesla.
The possible partnership between Tesla and Indonesia could accelerate Indonesia’s transition towards sustainable mobility and energy.
Jokowi appears to be aiming to leverage his country’s vast nickel reserves to fulfill his own domestic electric car ambitions for Indonesia.
Can Indonesia become SpaceX’s next launch site?
On December 11, on a call with Musk, Jokowi proposed the idea of Indonesia serving as a launch site for SpaceX. At this point, the scope of potential collaboration remains unclear as the country doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure in place for such a partnership.
Indonesia’s National Institute of Aeronautics and Space, or LAPAN, is currently building the country’s first rocket launch site in the remote province of Papua. The site will be used to launch small space rockets. However, it is not likely to be completed until 2024 and is not logistically prepared to cater to the needs of SpaceX’s heavy operations. For instance, SpaceX is building floating, super heavy-class spaceports in South Texas for missions to Mars and the moon, as well as for hypersonic travel around Earth. Indonesia’s rocket launch development site is still far from being able to support any such vision, let alone offering SpaceX an alternative for its current or planned operations.
Indonesia may hope to use SpaceX’s support to build the rocket launch site before using it for the country’s own plans. Indonesia’s aerospace development needs international investors and SpaceX is one possible partner.
SpaceX does have previous experience working in Indonesia. In 2018, SpaceX launched Telkom Indonesia’s communication satellite into orbit, using its Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Telkom Indonesia used SpaceX’s facilities in the US after one of its satellites exploded in orbit.
Currently, SpaceX is launching all its rockets from the US and it would be impractical for SpaceX to use Indonesia for its next launch site outside the US.
It seems that with Jokowi’s proposal of Indonesia as a potential launch site for SpaceX’s rockets, he is primarily courting Musk for collaboration in another area.
Elon Musk to look into potential Tesla, SpaceX investments in Indonesia
Musk is sending a delegation to Indonesia in January to explore potential areas of investment.
Indonesia, with the largest nickel reserves in the world, is already in talks with Tesla about a possible electric battery partnership. Nickel is the main element for manufacturing high performance lithium-ion batteries and Musk has noted Indonesia’s success in nickel production.
One proposal that Musk’s team will discuss during its upcoming visit to Indonesia focuses on building a plant in Central Java to produce electric batteries.
Utilizing its substantial nickel reserves, Indonesia plans to become the world’s biggest producer of electric vehicle batteries. This fits well with Jokowi’s electric car ambitions, as the president has a goal of making 20% of cars in Indonesia electric by 2025.
In this regard, Jokowi has been fairly successful in attracting large investments. China’s Amperex Technology (CATL), one of the world’s largest car battery manufacturers, is planning to build a US$5.1 billion battery plant in Indonesia. Japanese automotive giant Toyota has also promised to invest $2 billion to develop electric vehicles in Indonesia. South Korea’s Hyundai Motors has committed about $1.55 billion in investment for an electric car manufacturing plant in Indonesia and is likely to start production in 2021 with a yearly capacity of 150,000 vehicles.
In this context, Jokowi’s attempt to offer Tesla nickel reserves and a partnership in electric battery production holds true potential. For now, Indonesia may be far away from pulling off a rocket launch partnership with SpaceX, but the country’s nickel reserves offer Tesla everything it needs to fulfill its manufacturing needs. A major agreement between Indonesia and Tesla on that front may not be far off.