Bangladesh’s Space Age: A Strategic Shift?
Photo Credit: SpaceX
By Abu Sufian Shamrat

Bangladesh’s Space Age: A Strategic Shift?

Jun. 08, 2018  |     |  0 comments


Bangladesh’s space age has begun with the successful launch of the Bangabandhu-1 satellite into orbit by SpaceX on May 11, 2018, making Bangladesh one of the 57 nations having its own satellite. While the country is growing in terms of economic development, growth, GDP, women’s empowerment, human resource development, expanding connectivity, improving communications, as well as technological advancement, the future space-based Bangladesh may face mixed experiences.

 

Obviously, the satellite is going to help the country achieve the goal of “Digital Bangladesh” — providing huge prospects for the nation — however, several internal, external, and strategic challenges cannot be ignored. How will the satellite shape Bangladesh’s national power as well as national security order in this age of globalization? How is the state going to manage its internal and external challenges for assuring greater sustainability in the space age? In which way the nation will handle the strategic challenges enforced by the space powers in the near future?

 

In order to compete with the globalized world as well as to materialize its vision of digitalization, the current government of Bangladesh decided to make its own satellite. Following these targets, the state acted in a rational manner to visualize its space age, such that France made the satellite, the US took it to orbit, and Russia leased the orbital slot to Bangladesh.

 

There are basically three prospects of the satellite for Bangladesh: expanding and developing telecommunications and internet services around the country, enabling the telecommunications sector to reduce dependency on satellite services provided by the space powers and earn foreign revenue, and detecting as well as managing natural disasters and greater national security. The satellite will provide benefits regarding economic, social, agricultural, communications, and natural disaster management purposes, and is the result of policy-makers finally being able to focus on a project and take the necessary measures to see it through. This satellite network will facilitate certain sectors such as telemedicine, distance-learning, online research, video conferencing, defense, detecting sea piracy, and disaster management. It will also improve the direct-to-home services, making people’s access to worldwide television entertainment faster and easier.

 

The satellite’s advanced communications will bring immense economic gains as well. Currently, Bangladesh annually spends more than USD 14 million renting satellite bandwidth from foreign operators. Bangbandhu-1 will save Bangladesh USD 210 million throughout its 15-year span. Bangabandhu-1 is also expected to provide services to other Asian states such as Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan, as well as Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan — given that it is properly set-up, of course. Which means that Bangladesh stands to earn approximately USD 1 billion by leasing out the transponders and another USD 1.5 billion by selling other related services.

 

Even while Bangladesh is dreaming of a sustainable space age, there remain a lot of internal and external challenges. First, the government borrowed EUR 155 million (approximately BDT 1400 crore) from HSBC Holdings for the procurement and launch of Bangabandhu-1. The BTRC has been estimated to earn the investment by selling satellite services at home and abroad within eight years; but the specific public-private partnership-focused plan and market strategy have not been sketched properly yet. Also, the worldwide capacity of a satellite is usually sold before the launch, but Bangladesh has yet to make any such move.



Bangladesh’s neighboring states, targeted as markets for the nation’s space service, are almost dependent on China, India, Japan, Russia, the US and the other space powers for their space activities.



While Bangladesh has entered the space age, space sovereignty is still not a reality for the nation. The state tried to acquire its own orbital slot several times, but it was not allowed to. Finally, it had to borrow an orbit slot from Russia. The country is still very hopeful to get permission to establish its space sovereignty from the International Telecommunication Union. However, the current technological, technical, human resource, and space operation standard might not be in favor of the nation. To establish its space sovereignty, Bangladesh has to improve in these sectors following the global space standards.

 

The only space research center in Bangladesh is SPARRSO (Bangladesh Space Research and Remote Sensing Organization). It has been applying space and remote sensing technology in the fields of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, geology, cartography, water resources, land use, weather, environment, geography, oceanography, science, education, science-based knowledge and other related space research areas. It also provides the government with the space and remote sensing technology of different countries and gives advice on the formulation of national policy. But the organization is not globally well-connected and has not been developed as the space powers did during their emergent periods. It is not a focused organization that only operates, develops, navigates, and sustains Bangladesh’s space projection. The government now has to frame a rational and strategic policy and organization to visualize its space age. If Bangladesh would like to get any benefit from the satellite, the government will need to develop the technological standards for working the satellite as well as the policies and people working on it.

 

Indeed, Bangladesh’s neighboring states, targeted as markets for the nation’s space service, are almost dependent on China, India, Japan, Russia, the US and the other space powers for their space activities due to these space giants’ cost-effective services, their global networks, the market-oriented cost and supply, their huge number of satellites, their uninterrupted information and data flow, and their ever-increasing investment in space-connectivity. Where Bangladesh has only Bangabandhu-1, India has 84 satellites and China has 244. China is providing a low-cost space service to neighboring states in order to expand its "Belt and Road Initiative" and is also developing space technology to improve and expand connectivity around the world. India is also doing well to counter the Chinese connectivity dream by initiating its "Cotton Route" where space connectivity, customer friendly space services, and its huge number of Indian TV channels and Bollywood are gaming a competitive chessboard for the space superpowers. Both states have targeted Bangladesh as one of the key players and customers for their space governance. So, space balancing is going to a dilemma for Bangladesh, and rational action and strategic decisions to expand nation’s space age will be crucial.

 

Bangladesh’s growing space activities is going to strengthen and expand its soft power projection within the global space order. Around the last decade, the country experienced tremendous economic growth and technological development, and managed a lot of obstacles and crises. Now the challenges are bigger. Bangladesh has to face these challenges in order to visualize its sustainable space age where establishing space sovereignty, framing standard space policies and legal framework, balancing global space powers, considering and preparing for competitive satellite market, establishing academia for space exploration, ensuring national security, and managing internal dilemmas, external threats, and strategic challenges smartly are necessary.

 

 

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