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Officials and guests watch the launch live
Officials and guests watch the launch live

BHUTAN-1 leaves for space

Bhutan’s first satellite, CubeSat BHUTAN-1, left earth for the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday afternoon.

Information and communications minister, secretary and officials watched in excitement the launch that was broadcast live on YouTube and NASA television. The crowd cheered as the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft bearing BHUTAN-1 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, USA.

The visibly nervous officials made calls when the electricity went out about half an hour before the launch. Once it returned, the show was projected on a screen at the conference hall for about 50 people gathered to witness the making of history.

BHUTAN-1 will arrive at the International Space Station Monday morning.

BHUTAN-1 was launched with other payloads that the rocket delivers to the ISS that include the BIRDS-2 CubeSats of the Philippines and Malaysia and more than 5,900 pounds of research hardware, crew supplies and spare parts for the ISS.

BHUTAN-1 has been developed by Bhutanese engineers at the Kyushu Institute of Technology as part of their Master’s Degree under the BIRDS-2 Project.   

The BIRDS project is a cross-border interdisciplinary satellite project for non-space faring countries supported by Japan.

BHUTAN-1 will remain on the ISS and will be released into low earth orbit with the other CubeSats in August this year. Once released, BHUTAN-1 will become operational and can be tracked from the ground station at the information and communications ministry, a press release from the ministry stated.

The satellite will operate in a low altitude of about 500km to 1,500km. With the help of two high-end cameras fixed on the satellite, it will take high quality photographs of the country, help examine the conditions of the glaciers, lakes, forest cover, provide basic communication services, and to study the radiation effect on satellites.

BHUTAN-1 will pass around the country four-five times in a day for three-four minutes. BHUTAN-1 has a lifespan of six to nine months.

“It will then be disposed off,” an official from the MoIC said. However, sources said that the satellite could last up to one to two years.

Initial estimates showed that the whole process from training the engineers to launching the nanosat and building a ground station in the country would cost around USD 280,000.

Under the BIRDS-2 Project that began in November 2016, the engineers along with participants from the Philippines and Malaysia built three 1U (10*10*10 cm) CubeSat.

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.

Tshering Palden

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