Served educational purpose for Bhutanese space engineers

Yangyel Lhaden

At about 330 kilometres above the earth’s surface, Bhutan’s first satellite BHUTAN-1 is orbiting the earth. Last Friday, on June 29, it was the second anniversary of launching the satellite to the International Space Station (ISS), located at about 400 km altitude above the earth’s surface.

From the ISS, BHUTAN-1 was released into earth’s orbit on August 10, 2019. The satellite is placed at around longitude of 51.5 degrees with respect to equator in earth’s orbit. BHUTAN-1 orbits the earth 15 to16 times a day and passes around the country four to five times a day.


BHUTAN-1 (CubeSat with dimension 10*10*10* cm) is an educational satellite, meaning it was developed for beginners to learn on how to build a satellite, launch it in space and operate it from the ground station.

BHUTAN-1 has been developed by Bhutanese engineers at the Kyushu Institute of Technology as part of their Master’s Degree under the BIRDS-2 Project.

BHUTAN-1 is capable of transmitting two types of data- mission data and housekeeping data. The data is received at the ground station located at the Ministry of Information and Communication compound, Thimphu.

Mission data are camera images captured from space.  Cheki Dorji, engineer with the Division of Telecom and Space (DTS) said that downloading images from the satellite was not feasible since Bhutan-1 satellite could not uplink the data from ground station to space to harness the image. It was the limitation of CubeSat built under the BIRDS-2 project, he said.

However, housekeeping data is transmitted from the satellite every day and studied. The status of the satellite such as its battery, temperature and its parts are known as housekeeping data.

The Deputy Executive Engineer with DTS, Kiran Kumar Pradhan said that although the capability of the satellite was limited, the function of small CubeSat was similar to a bigger satellite which gave them insight on how a bigger satellite works.


Life Span of BHUTAN-1

The minimum requirement of a satellite to orbit in space is six months. BHUTAN-1 has been in space for two years. According to DTS officials, BHUTAN-1, in a few months will reach earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate.

Yeshey Choden, engineer with DTS said that the satellite was living up to its full potential and had served the educational purpose well.


What’s next?

Officials of DTS said that they could not stop by just building a satellite.

Kiran Kumar Pradhan said that if they could operate small satellites, they could even build bigger satellites and operate them. DTS officials are studying ground reality on what satellite would be appropriate for Bhutan, which sector needs the most, and relevant agencies that could be the potential users of satellites.

Kiran Kumar Pradhan said that after the Covid-19 pandemic eases, they would start practical work on the next satellite by consulting international agents.

However, DTS officials said that they still needed to continue with the capacity development programme to enhance their capability to build bigger satellites in the near future.

The development of space policy and strategy is included in the 12th Plan. Yeshey Choden said that by the end of 12th Plan, they would have clear ideas on how the space programme would proceed.

However, Yeshey Choden said that the policy and strategy aspect was not enough to adopt space technology. For a sustainable space programme it was important to create a thriving space sector, she said. “One of the main activities the team is focusing on is reaching out to people and educating them on space technology,” she added.

Bhutan Space Week was observed from February 17-23. The team is also looking forward to working with the education ministry to incorporate some aspects of space technology in current school curriculum.