Bangladesh’s space age has dawned with the successful launch of Bangabandhu-1 satellite by SpaceX into orbit after 24 hours of high drama when the automatic abort scuppered the first attempt.
A day before, the rocket’s onboard computers triggered an abort with less than a minute left on the countdown clock over a presumed technical glitch.
Later, the Elon Musk-led company said it had reserved a backup launch window and Bangladeshis across the globe kept their eyes glued to live broadcast in the wee hours of Saturday to watch the big event with bated breath.
The satellite will eventually travel 22,000 miles above Earth into the space, where it will provide telecommunications coverage for Bangladesh and surrounding areas.
The deployment of the satellite heralds a historic moment for Bangladesh as it joined the list of a handful of low-income countries with space ambitions to achieve their own development goals and kickstart and empower innovation.
It comes only two months after Bangladesh met the eligibility requirements for “Developing Country” status by the United Nations on March 17, 2018.
People were allowed to watch the launch from two visitor complexes—Apollo/ Saturn V centre which is 3.9 miles away from the launch pad, and the main visitor complex which is seven miles away from it.
State Minister for Information Tarana Halim is leading a 30-strong team that flew to Florida to witness the launch.
State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak and Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood were on the team. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ICT Affairs Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy was also there.
The launch complex 39-A at the space centre is the historic one used to launch Apollo 11 to its mission to the Moon.
Built by Thales Alenia Space Facilities in France, the satellite will provide Ku-band and C-band television and data services across Bangladesh in a mission valued at some $280 million, including the cost of the Falcon 9.
The satellite contains 40 transponders; Bangladesh will use 20 and rent out the rest. Once operational at 119.1°E longitude orbit, the satellite will provide three types of services: broadcasting, telecommunications and data communications.
Television and radio stations use the broadcasting services delivered directly to their audiences and viewers.
Internet service providers along with mobile and land phone operators will also be able to use the satellite.
The satellite is expected to save Bangladesh Tk 14 million a year that the country is currently spending on renting foreign satellites.
The government is also expecting to earn Tk 2.5 to 3 billion annually from the satellite and start making profit in six to seven years’ time.
The profit, however, seems not be the main purpose to be served by the satellite.
Other than providing internet to rural communities, it offers the potential to improve agriculture and disaster planning, and ensure national security, which the government thinks should not be measured in financial terms.
IT expert Sumon Ahmed Sabir told, “We should take the matter of pride more importantly than the commercial viability as Bangladesh is very much young in the satellite age. We have stepped into this era, though late.”
State Minister Palak hopes Bangladeshi engineers will also benefit from the knowledge being transferred to them over the entire process.
“We can be optimistic that the day is not far when our scientists and engineers would be able to build our own satellites,” he said.