Papuans whose island has been offered as a possible launch site for Elon Musk’s SpaceX project have told the billionaire Tesla boss that their company is unwelcome on their land and that their presence would devastate their island’s ecosystem and drive out Tesla. the people of their homes.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo offered Musk the use of part of the tiny island of Biak in Papua in December.
An Indonesian government representative told The Guardian this week that the planned spaceport was being developed in consultation with the Papuan government and local communities, and that the development of Biak as a “space island” would “bring positive economic impacts” for the islanders.
But Papuans in Biak are fiercely opposed, arguing that a space launch pad will fuel deforestation, increase Indonesian military presence and threaten their future on the island. An island tribal chief, Manfun Sroyer, said he feared Papuans would be forced to leave their homes.
“This spaceport will cost us our traditional hunting grounds, damaging the nature on which our way of life depends. But if we protest, they will arrest us immediately. “
The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, also aims to develop a large rocket launch site on the island of Biak by 2024.
“In 2002, the Russians wanted our land for satellite launches. We protested and many were arrested and questioned … now they have brought him back, and this harassment and intimidation still continues, ”said Manfun Sroyer.
Biak is part of the Papua province, where a secessionist campaign against Indonesian rule has been waged for decades. The east coast of Biak faces the Pacific Ocean, and its location, one degree below the equator, is ideal for launching low-orbit satellites for communications, with less fuel required to reach orbit. Its proximity to natural resource reserves also makes it a prime candidate for a launch site.
Musk plans to launch 12,000 satellites by 2026 to provide low-cost, high-speed Internet through Starlink Internet service. A SpaceX test rocket exploded on the landing pad this month after landing, the third consecutive failure.
West Papua’s vast natural resources include copper and nickel, two of the most important metals for rockets, as well as the long-range batteries used in Tesla’s electric vehicles (EVs).
Widodo also aims to attract Tesla to Indonesia, promoting its nickel deposits, to make it the second largest producer of electric vehicles in Southeast Asia. If successful, the Tesla and SpaceX operations could further accelerate resource extraction in Papua and West Papua.
Musk told Indonesian officials in July that Tesla would offer a “giant contract for a long period of time if it extracts nickel efficiently and in an environmentally friendly manner.”
But Papuans and environmental experts fear a launch site will further harm the island’s delicate ecosystem.
“It’s a tiny island,” Benny Wenda, exiled leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) and acting president, told The Guardian. “It is already destroying ecosystems and threatening the survival of the Biak people. They just want to live simply, without this destruction reaching the island. “
The Raja Ampat Islands in West Papua contain significant nickel deposits, and a coalition of Indonesian environmental non-governmental organizations, JATAM, has argued that it expanded mining will increase deforestation, contaminate a proposed Unesco marine world heritage site and endanger the health of the local population.
The Grasberg mine on the mainland of Papua is the second largest copper mine in the world. The increased production is likely to add to the 80 million tons of mining waste it dumps into surrounding rivers each year, compounding environmental damage.
In July 1998, Biak Island was the site of one of the worst massacres in the history of the Indonesian occupation of West Papua, when dozens of civilians were tortured and killed and their bodies dumped into the sea, allegedly by the forces of Indonesian security, after activists denounced the West Papua Morning Star flag.
Tineke Rumkabu, an elderly woman from Biak, a survivor of that violence, said she wanted to tell Musk that his space project was not welcome on the island of his people.
“As a South African, you understand apartheid, the killing of black people. If you bring your business here, you are directly sponsoring the Indonesian genocide against the Papuans. “
Biak is also strategically important to the Indonesian military, where it has built naval, troop and air bases that serve as a starting point for the deployment of aircraft and troops.
An Indonesian government spokesperson told The Guardian that the Indonesian National Aeronautics and Space Institute (LAPAN) had consulted extensively with the Papua provincial government on the spaceport plan for Biak.
“The Papua provincial government believes that the construction of the spaceport in Biak will make the Biak Numfor district a hub and bring positive economic impacts for the regional government and the local community. The Indonesian parliament also sees that the construction of Biak Island as a ‘space island’ will bring a multiplier effect to the surrounding community ”.
LAPAN will continue to consult intensively with local communities as the spaceport plan is developed, the government said.
SpaceX did not respond to questions from The Guardian.
Formerly Dutch New Guinea, Papua was invaded and later annexed by Jakarta in 1963.
Indonesia formalized its control over the province in 1969 under the UN-supervised, but undemocratic and coercive Free Choice Act. Jakarta regards Papua and West Papua as indivisible parts of the unitary state of Indonesia.
The Papuans, Melanesians who are ethnically and culturally similar to the people of PNG, the Solomon Islands and Fiji, have consistently resisted the Indonesian government and waged a long-running campaign for independence that has cost some 100,000 lives.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism