In a country like ours, space research could be seen as a luxury that we can’t afford. But in this era, space research should not be limited to first-world countries. The study of outer space is known as space research, but it is much more than just exploring it. It involves gathering knowledge about how the celestial bodies function, how to implement that knowledge in our daily lives, etc.
Space research in Bangladesh
The first foray for Bangladesh in the space spectrum started with the formation of SPARRSO – Space Research And Remote Sensing Organization. SPARRSO is the state agency concerned with astronomical research. Although it was officially formed in 1980, our national history of space research started with the establishment of the Space and Atmospheric Research Center (SARC), which was influenced by the USA’s launch of the Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS) in 1972. SPARRSO’s activities include space research and services like remote sensing and educating the people of our country about science and technology while promoting it. The pinnacle of their research was the launch of the country’s first satellite, Bangabandhu Satellite-1, on May 12, 2018. Bangabandhu-1 is a communication satellite. It provides high-speed internet access to the country’s remote areas, monitors weather patterns, and gives early warning regarding potential cyclones and floods, saving countless lives. It is also used to monitor the border area and ensure national security. This satellite sends data through the ground stations situated in Gazipur and Betbunia. Bangladesh’s government had also planned to launch a second satellite, Bangabandhu-2, to space by 2023, but the project remains incomplete.
Discourse around Bangladesh and Space Research
Bangladesh being a developing country, there are some debates regarding the feasibility of space research. Some argue that the money spent on space research is more suited to be spent elsewhere, such as healthcare and education. Since a part of the country’s population still lives under the poverty threshold, it would seem that space research is a luxury we can’t afford. However, on the other hand, space research can also lead to inventions we can use daily. Memory foam, scratch-resistant lenses, digital camera sensors, laptops, and precision GPS technology – all are direct and indirect results of space research by NASA. Therefore, comparing space research to a “white elephant” undermines the importance of invention and the progress of technology. There is also the issue of national pride. Bangladesh became only the 57th country to have a satellite, even before some richer countries such as Tunisia and Qatar.
What does the future hold?
The launch of Bangabandhu-1 was a historic milestone for Bangladesh and the space research sector of the country. As mentioned above, Bangladesh planned to launch a second satellite named Bangabandhu-2. Unlike its predecessor, Bangabandhu-1, a geostationary satellite used for communication purposes, Bangabandhu-2 will be a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite, which will be used for environmental monitoring, meteorology, cartography, and defense purposes. Bangladesh’s space research agency, SPARRSO, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) regarding cooperation on space research and development with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). In this MoU, the two agencies agreed to share data and technology whenever necessary. With ISRO being praised worldwide for their low-cost yet vastly successful lunar project, this MoU could greatly benefit SPARRSO and Bangladesh. Also, if Bangladesh manages to empower and develop SPARRSO, ISRO could also be persuaded to let us use their facilities since Bangladesh is a small country, and there are not many places for ambitious space projects. However, as Bangladesh still lacks in many sectors, it could be hard to match the pace of ISRO.
The role of SPARRSO
Criticism has been directed toward SPARRSO following the successful landing of Chandrayaan-3 by ISRO on the Lunar South Pole. The organization has been accused of insufficient scientific research. Only ten research projects related to remote sensing and satellite imaging have been approved for the fiscal year 2022-2023, with few focused on space research. Furthermore, the appointment of the now-ex-chairman, Mr Abdus Samad has been heavily criticized for not having an appropriate educational background. SPARRSO’s website needs to be improved in providing useful scientific information. To summarize, SPARRSO needs to modernize and consider constructive criticisms.
Bangladesh is a new player in the world of space research, joining the foray just a few years ago. The future is positive, as Bangladesh has one of the largest populations in the world. Large population means more opportunities to find talent. With proper guidance and grooming, there could be an abundance of promising academics who can take the country and the world to new horizons.