Written by Md Irfan Hossain Afif (Sylhet Cadet College, Sylhet)
When a child from Bangladesh looks up at the sky he sees plain stars, twinkling against the black of night, but a child from America sees more than that. He sees billions of galaxies he could discover, planets he could conquer and civilizations he could find. That’s the difference between our children and USA’s.
Does that mean our children lack imagination and merit? Of course not. We have Lamiya Ashraf Mowla, a Bangladeshi-born Astrophysicist, now working for The James WEBB telescope team. We have award-winning scientist Mehmooda Sultana, working in the NASA Goddard space center. And both of them are women.
How can we delve further into space research when our government allocated a budget of only 189 million takas for our national space agency SPARRSO. The irony is, currently, SPARRSO runs no project regarding deep space exploration and the agency is severely understaffed.
Bangladesh entered into the space age with the successful launch of the BANGABANDHU-1 satellite, earning the status of the 57th country to own a satellite. It was a historic feat for our nation. But an undeniable fact is that France made the satellite, the USA took it to orbit, and Russia leased the orbital slot to Bangladesh. Whereas our neighboring county India launched ‘Mangalayaan’, a mars orbiting space probe. They made it in their own country, with their own scientists, and within a budget under 75 million dollars. I repeat, 75 million only. That’s even less than the budget of an average Hollywood movie.
Now some might ask if is it befitting for a country like Bangladesh to spend a huge amount of money on space research when 12.9 percent of our country lives in extreme poverty. (UNICEF,2022). That’s because we are not aware of the benefits space research entails.
NASA recently published its economic impact report, demonstrating how its Moon to Mars activities, investments in climate change research and technology, as well as other work generated more than $71.2 billion in total economic output for the USA (G. Dodson, 2022). A similar research from London economics showed Britain profits £3-£4 (direct) plus £6-£12 (spillover) per £1 of public investment to European Space Agency (London Economics, 2015)
Bangabandhu satellite will save us about 210 million dollars throughout its 15-year span by saving us the cost of renting satellite bandwidth from foreign operators. The satellite is set to provide services to other Asian states such as Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan — meaning the country will earn approximately $1bn by leasing out the transponders and another $1.5bn by selling other related services. The satellite will expand and develop the telecommunication and internet services of the country, reduce dependency on foreign space powers for satellites and detect as well as manage natural disasters (Samrat,2018).
Bangabandhu understood the need for space research in this country. That is why, shortly after independence, in 1972 the Bangabandhu government established Earth Resource Technology (ERT) and Atmospheric Research Center (SARC). Later these two entities were merged to form SPARSSO. Since then, SPARSSO conducted various pieces of research, mostly related to natural resource surveys, environmental surveys, and river navigation disaster monitoring and management. They recently initiated a project named the ‘blue economy project’ to establish a geographic information system of coastal areas and support activities related to the Blue Economy (BE) by providing information on coastal geo-morphology and fishing zones in the Bay of Bengal (Samrat,2018). In the last 11 years, they have conducted 117 pieces of research (Prothom Alo, 2022).
And all these benefits, though barely mentionable, came from our own space research. A recent news article published by Prothom Alo provided some insight into the present condition of SPARSSO. SPARSSO currently possesses no infrastructure other than a ground station, which too, is a donation from foreign grants. That’s why the space agency had no involvement in the launching of the Bangabandhu satellite because the agency does not have any satellite technology program. The agency is seriously understaffed. 23 officers are employed where there are posts of 63 scientific officers and engineers, and many are working in multiple departments to at least keep the departments running. It is true, 42 years have passed, but SPARSSO remains a nominal space organization till now.
The world is gradually entering the space age. The space economy already occupies a huge portion of the global economy and already has a worth of 386 US billion dollars. China owns 244 satellites and India 84. China is providing a low-cost space service to neighboring states to
expand its ‘Belt and Road Initiative strategy and is also developing space technology to improve and expand connectivity web around the world. India is also doing well to counter the Chinese connectivity dream by initiating the ‘Cotton Route’ where space connectivity, customer-friendly space services, and a huge number of Indian TV channels and Bollywood are gaming a competitive chessboard for these space superpowers (Samrat,2018). So for Bangladesh to emerge as a space superpower will be a challenge. For now, the best mode of action will be to coordinate, not compete.
Maybe we are not USA or UK or Russia but that is for now. One day we can be. For that, we must prepare the next generation. We need to create opportunities for our youth, adopt rational long-term planning, and only then, brilliant scientists like Lamiya Ashraf or Mehmooda sultana will work for this nation.
Desk, E. (n.d.). Make SPARRSO self sufficient. [online] Prothomalo. Available at: https://en.prothomalo.com/opinion/editorial/z1utm6i8bl [Accessed 9 Jan. 2023].
Dodson, G. (2022). NASA’s Economic Benefit Reaches All 50 States. [online] NASA. Available at: https://www.nasa.gov/press–release/nasa-s-economic-benefit-reaches-all-50-states.
Humanitarian situation Report no.59. (2022). [online] unicef.org. UNICEF. Available at: https://www.unicef.org/appeals/bangladesh/situation-reports [Accessed 1 Jan. 2023].
Return from Public Space Investments An initial analysis of evidence on the returns from public space investments FINAL REPORT PUBLIC. (2015). [online] Available at: https://londoneconomics.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/LE-UKSA-Return-from-Public- Space-Investments-FINAL-PUBLIC.pdf [Accessed 9 Jan. 2023].
Shamrat, A.S., “Bangladesh’s Space Age: A Strategic Turnover?”, IndraStra Global Vol. 04 (Issue No: 5) (2018) 0039 https://www.indrastra.com/2018/05/Bangladesh-s-Space- Age- Strategic-Turnover-Q-004-05-2018-0039.html | ISSN 2381-3652 |