If all goes according to plan, 2018 will be another year of immense pride for Bhutan.
We’re set to launch our first satellite into space. It will be small but the event will be momentous. It will signify our entry into the final frontier: space.
Our space programme is just beginning. We are only now sending three young Bhutanese engineers to pursue their masters degrees in space engineering. We will have another small team in the information and communications ministry operating a transponder on a SAARC satellite set to be launched by the end of this year.
The goal is to eventually have our own geostationary satellite. The journey will be a long and expensive one. But it is one that is needed.
We are spending about Nu 13.7 million a year for various satellite services. We can only expect this expenditure to increase as our requirement for more satellite services grows. The cost savings in the long run could be significant.
The cost-effectiveness that a satellite will offer is relevant for a country that is graduating out of the Least Developed Country category. As donor support declines, we need to take calculated risks in investing big now to save later.
But there are other advantages besides costs. For instance, a satellite would do away with the DTH TV problem the government has been unable to resolve given that it has to deal with third companies. With our own satellite, we could have our own DTH TV package with BBS included.
A satellite would also offer an additional layer of redundancy. For instance, if the land links to the internet are severed by for instance, a natural disaster, the satellite would be able to provide a stable link for not only internet but other services like telecommunications.
Other nations have taken decades in developing their space programmes. It is thanks to them that we will have the benefit of knowing the dos and don’ts of this sector. In a way, we leapfrog.
But there are other areas we need to intensively focus on.
We must strengthen our education curriculum. As a whole, we need to focus on nurturing creativity, while making our math and science curriculums more engaging, relevant, and fun for our students. By providing our children with a strong curious drive and solid foundations in maths and science, we automatically build future space engineers and scientists.
There will be risks, take for example the recent crash landing of a Mars probe designed by an established organisation like the European Space Agency.
But such set backs do not mean that we stop.
The first step has been taken. We join the rest of the world “to boldly go where no one has gone before”.