In spite of having a great number of graduates from physics, maths, or engineering departments of several public and private universities, Bangladesh is way behind other countries in terms of space research. The geopolitical narrative of space being controlled only by developed nations somehow created a borderline for our students to set their limit for the sky. However, the recent success of India has ignited the question of whether Bangladesh should aggressively emphasise space-related projects or not.
India has won praise from people all around the world for its successful Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan) in 2013, Chandrayaan-2 moon mission in 2019, and its ongoing dedication to space exploration. Geopolitical experts argue that this is one of the biggest stepping stones to be acknowledged as a superpower like the US, Russia, or China in the near future for India.
Being rational and realistic, the ambition of becoming a superpower does not resemble the case of Bangladesh. But to begin with, it may be time for Bangladesh to set aside some funding for the deployment of a new technical sector and for the improvement of the abilities of the ambitious.
Bangladesh has Space Research and Remote Sensing Organisation (SPARRSO), which works with the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) to conduct environmental and meteorological research. If Bangladesh decides to actively engage SPARRSO with a much more utilitarian approach, the reasonableness of advancement of knowledge sharing and technological transfer can be facilitated through partnerships with India as they have already progressed in the loop.
This initiates the capacity development of future researchers and scientists interested in this field. Various sectors such as agroforestry, climate, and disaster management can be enriched with a new set of potential resource persons in the future.
Nevertheless, the most debatable discourse is whether the cost-benefit analysis in terms of economic gain supports this notion of space research or not. But to keep things in perspective, there is an underlying disguised economic benefit for launching space research on a macro scale.
On May 12, 2018, Bangladesh launched Bangabandhu-1 into Earth's orbit, and in May 2019, it started conducting commercial operations. In a 2012 feasibility study, the government stated that it hoped to break even on the satellite project, which was anticipated to cost Tk 3,000 crore, in seven years. This particular cost can be minimised to a greater extent if the model of India can be replicated here.
The cost of the Mars Orbitary Mission which is unofficially recognized as Mangalyaan was completed in a budget of only 453 crore rupees. The advancement in space research can significantly impact the budget of satellite launching which can be further propelled as a commercial satellite to generate a new revenue stream for Bangladesh.
Furthermore, space technology has the potential to improve our capacities in remote sensing, weather forecasting, and disaster management, resulting in improved agriculture, fisheries, and infrastructure development, and, eventually, economic growth.
The next narrative might be a bit more abstract compared to the quantitative positives of space research. From the historical evidence, space has been a bone of contention in amplifying the global polarisation paradigm. It can assist Bangladesh in becoming more involved in geopolitical decision-making. Bangladesh can obtain power dynamics at the table of global polarisation by participating in space exploration. This can assist Bangladesh in promoting its interests and increasing its worldwide prominence as a rising developed nation in the future.
Funding opportunities are there but it needs to be explored rigorously. SPARRSO can be the trump card to avail such opportunities. Compared to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), SPARRSO is less equipped in terms of technological factors and expert human capital. The experience bracket tilts around 1 year for most of the employees where ISRO has been armed with potential young scientists and experienced researchers.
The masses always had a negative impression in terms of space research provided the economic conditions of Bangladesh. But, not always democracy can be considered the right mechanism for making a decision. And the narrative of space being dominated by developed nations needs to be challenged as research should never be limited to geographical boundaries.
Bangladesh has mass potential in terms of creating new employment opportunities through space science which would not only include technological aspects but also administrative positions. It is crucial to provide a legal framework for space activities, such as satellite launches and space research. It might be difficult to ensure adherence to national regulatory standards and international space treaties and accords at the same time.
Space research is fresh. So is the new generation. A new opening and facilitation from the government is all they need to explore the world of stars.
The writer is a Lecturer at the Department of Environmental Science and Management at North South University.