Bangladesh’s space age has dawned with the successful launch of Bangabandhu-1 satellite by SpaceX into orbit after 24 hours of high drama following an automatic abort at the first attempt.
The communications satellite rode into space on top of Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket that took off for its debut flight from NASA’s launchpad 39A at Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral at 2:14am on Saturday Bangladesh time.
“Bangabandhu-1 satellite has started its journey to orbit successfully as everything went as planned,” State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak said from the space centre in Florida.
The Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket’s first stage landed on a droneship in the Atlantic 8:45 minutes after the liftoff, according to SpaceX.
The satellite was deployed into a geostationary transfer orbit approximately 33 minutes after the launch, SpaceX said.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood also said from the space centre that the deployment was successful.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a video message described the launch of the satellite as ‘another milestone added to the continuous advancement of Bangladesh’.
She remembered the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in this ‘very delightful and glorious day for our motherland’.
Besides Bangladesh, services can be provided to a number of countries in South and South East Asia, Hasina said.
She thanked France for helping Bangladesh make the satellite, the US for taking the satellite to orbit, and Russia for leasing the orbital slot to Bangladesh.
On Friday, the computers triggered an auto-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.
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 led a 30-strong team that flew to Florida to witness the launch.
The prime minister’s son and ICT Affairs Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy was also there.
“It was a perfect launch into clear skies. Bangabandhu-1 is now on its own flying out to its final orbit over Bangladesh,” he wrote on the social media.
The launch complex 39-A at the space centre is the historic one used to launch Apollo 11 to its mission to the Moon.
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.
The satellite travelled 22,000 miles above Earth into the space, where it will provide telecommunications coverage for Bangladesh and surrounding areas.
It will take nearly a month to bring the satellite under complete control of three ground stations in the US, Italy and South Korea.
Once it is completely operational, the control will be transferred to the ground station in Bangladesh – which will take another month.
The Bangabandhu satellite’s ground station has been built in Gazipur’s Joydebpur. A backup station has also been built in Rangamati’s Betbunia.
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.
Once operational at 119.1°E longitude orbit, the satellite will provide three types of services: broadcasting, telecommunications and data communications.
The satellite contains 40 transponders; Bangladesh will use 20 and rent out the rest.
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 to be the main purpose to be served by the satellite.
Other than providing internet to rural communities, it will offer 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 said, “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.”
According to a bdnews24 report, 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 off when our scientists and engineers would be able to build our own satellites,” he said.
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