Around USD 280,000 will be spent on the effort

Space: Bhutan’s first satellite, a nano-satellite (nanosat) or a CubeSat is expected to be in space by the mid of 2018. This will be the country’s first venture into space technology.

The CubeSat will weigh about a kilogram and will be around 10cm in length.

Three Bhutanese engineers, Yeshey Choden, Kiran Kumar Pradhan and Cheki Dorji will be the pioneers involved in the designing, building, launching and operating of the country’s first nano-satellite.

The three engineers will leave for Japan at the end of this month to pursue a two-year masters programme in space engineering at the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech).

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay highlighted the importance of space technology and said that the country is already engaged in using satellite facilities and technology but many Bhutanese are unaware of its significance.

“Space technology is extremely important and it is relevant for Bhutan,” said Lyonchoen. “If anything we are late, and we need to develop our capabilities as soon as possible on this front.”

The lack of capacity in this area has delayed the country’s endeavour into exploring space technology so far. Lyonchoen said that the vision for the project is being provided by His Majesty The King. “His Majesty is the inspiration and it is only because of His Majesty that we have been able to fast track the whole process to this stage.”

Because a space programme is important, Lyonchoen said that the government decided to fund the programme for the three engineers. Around USD 280,000 is expected to be incurred in the whole process from training the engineers to launching the nanosat and building a ground station in the country.

“This, however, is money well spent,” said Lyonchoen, adding that for the first time in addition to using space technology, Bhutan will be developing to enter the frontier of space.

Annually the national broadcaster spends around Nu 9.5 million (M) to use the INSAT communication facilities to broadcast BBS TV throughout the country. Bhutan Telecom invests around Nu 3M to provide telecommunication services and the Department of Hydro-Met Services pays around Nu 1.2M every year for the GLOF early warning systems.

Once launched, the satellite will operate in a low altitude of about 500km to 1,500km. With the help of two high-end cameras fitted on the satellite, it will take high quality photographs of the country, help examine the conditions of the glaciers, lakes, forest covers and provide basic communication services said Lyonchoen.

Apart from launching the nanosat, Lyonchoen said that a space agency will also be setup within the information and communications ministry where the engineers would work.

Lyonchoen added that in addition to operating the nanosat, the engineers will also operate a transponder (a device for receiving a radio signal and automatically transmitting a different signal) on the SAARC satellite.

In the SAARC satellite, which is a geostationary satellite, a much larger earth-orbiting satellite that is placed at an altitude of approximately 35,800 kilometers above the earth, Bhutan has been given a transponder to be used.

The SAARC satellite is expected to be launched towards the end of this year.

The space station which will be developed under the information and communications ministry will be responsible for operating the transponder until the three engineers are back from Japan, said Lyonchoen.

“The long-term goal will be to operate our own geostationary satellite and possibly lease similar transponder to other countries.”

After becoming a member of the International Telecommunication Union in 1988 Bhutan also received an orbital slot at 59.1-degree east longitude. The orbital slot, Lyonchoen explained is a property of Bhutan in space where a geostationary satellite can be stationed by the country.

In 2000 another another orbital slot at 86-degree east longitude was also given to Bhutan. However, because of the lack of capacity, Lyonchoen said that two orbital slots are not utilised currently.

“We are not using them at all. In fact, we are not even managing our property in space because there are satellites near these areas that are already operating and their frequency could interfere with ours once we have our own satellite in the slots.”

Lyonchoen said that once the space engineers complete their master’s degrees, the goal will be to launch Bhutan’s own geostationary satellite. “We have the orbital slots already allocated to us. We must develop a capacity to use our slots for our own purposes,” he said, adding that all we need to do is learn how to manage it. “This I think is a huge first step in that direction.”

Younten Tshedup