The Mouse That Roared

In 1990, Tonga, a 288-square-mile (747-square-kilometer) Polynesian kingdom of about 100,000, used a legal technicality to snatch up the last 16 desirable empty orbital slots connecting Asia, the Pacific and the United States. Intelsat, then a satellite consortium owned by 119 governments, opposed the move, and the International Frequency Registration Board in Geneva instructed the archipelago of 169 islands to drop most of its claims. As of 2012, Tongasat owns at least one satellite, and offers nine geostationary slots in six bands and a number of non-geostationary network filings.

Most of us know Crest as a weapon for defending Toothopolis from the Cavity Creeps, but to the Southeast Asian island nation of Singapore, CREST (the Centre for Research in Satellite Technologies) is the organization that ushered in the new space age, developing its first domestic-built satellite.

The 265-pound (120-kilogram) microsatellite, dubbed X-Sat, piggybacked into orbit aboard India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C16 on April 20, 2011, and began transmitting imagery to Singapore's Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (CRISP) on May 5. The X-Sat project was developed by Nanyang Technological University in conjunction with DSO National Laboratories, Singapore's national defense R&D organization.

Covering a mere 265 square miles (687 square kilometers), or about 3.5 times the area of the District of Columbia, this parliamentary republic of 4.7 million people has an established track record of remote sensing research, both alone and in conjunction with the National Space Development Agency (NASDA) of Japan, NASA's EO-1 science team and the ENVISAT projects of the European Space Agency (ESA). X-Sat builds upon that tradition and acts as a demonstration of Singapore's technical know-how.

To paraphrase Master Yoda: Judge this former British trading colony by its size, do you? And well you should not; for its allies are robust international trading ties, a port that ranks among the busiest in the world and a per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) (the total output of a country divided by its population) on a par with the most prosperous nations of Western Europe.