Bhutan’s space and satellite journey

Phub Dem 

Bhutan’s journey in space technology began in 1988 when it became a member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and was allotted its first orbital slot. 

According to Karma Yonten, a member of satellite working group, the orbital slot at 59.1 degrees east longitude was similar to a real estate in space – where the country can station a geostationary satellite. 

Karma Yonten shared Bhutan’s journey in space technology during the launch of Bhutan space week in Thimphu yesterday. 

In 2000, ITU allocated another orbital slot for Bhutan at 86-degree east longitude. 

He said that had it not been His Majesty The King who constantly reminded about harnessing space resources, many did not know about Bhutan’s orbital slots. 

However, due to lack of capacity, he said that two orbital slots are not used currently.

Subsequently, a nanosatellite developed and designed by a team of four Bhutanese engineers ‘BHUTAN 1’ –Bhutan’s first satellite – was launched into orbit on June 29, 2018. 

Karma Yonten said South Asian Satellite (SAS) launched in May 2017 had benefitted the country. 

Through SAS, two BBS channels, four radio channels, connectivity to three off-grid gewogs, very-small-aperture terminal ‘VSATs’ in 20 dzongkhags and 60 gewogs for emergency communication was possible.

This, according to him was to back up both international and domestic connectivity. 

In addition to a free transponder, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) also helped the country set up a ground station for the SAS, and training for the ground station staff. 

Others include numerous workshops related to space technology, and the naming of an exoplanet earlier this year.

One of the space engineers, Yeshi Choden said that following the launch of the BHUTAN 1 and series of other space initiatives, many people, especially Youth showed interest and enthusiasm towards space technology.   

She said that the Space Week’s programme was carefully curated to inspire and nurture Youth.  

With the aim to foster continued enthusiasm in science and technology, the programme is expected to initiate outreach and educational activities since there were no such initiatives in the country. 

Karma Yonten said that the programme was inspired by His Majesty’s vision to utilise space resources and technologies for the benefit of Bhutan, safeguard resources allotted to Bhutan, and to inspire the youth to become interested in STEM.  

The launch was to commemorate the 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty The King.  

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering who launched the programme said that as a surgeon he has seen how artificial intelligence was making human involvement less relevant. 

Lyonchhen said that the government had already initiated major programmes under Digital Drukyul flagship programme.  “We should focus on becoming producers of the new technology, not just consumers.” 

The government has allocated Nu 305 million for space and satellite activities to build 3U and 5U satellites, for orbital slot filing, satellite network for disaster communications, and drafting of space policy, regulations and Act, and construction of satellite control building in the Plan. 

There are also space seminars, space quiz competition, BHUTAN 1 ground station operation, and space-themed movie screening for the week. 

As a part of the weeklong programme, 23 schools (students of class ix to xii) from around the country registered for the space quiz competition. Top ten school will compete today. 

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