ISRO aids Bhutan’s space odyssey

The agreement was virtually signed between the Ministry of Information and Communications and Indian Space Research Organisation

SONAM PENJOR

Thimphu

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication (DITT), Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) this week virtually signed the implementing arrangement on the joint development of a small satellite for Bhutan which is targeted for launch in December this year.

Pursuant to the India-Bhutan joint statement of the state visit issued during the visit of PM Modi to Bhutan in August 2019 and the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Bhutan and India on cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space was signed on November 19, 2020, the ISRO and DITT are presently collaborating on the joint development of a small satellite for the country.

During the ceremony, Indian Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj said the document which contains six pages long, capturing the spirit of the enduring friendship between India and Bhutan.

“Significantly, the implementing arrangement is reflective of our resolve to open new chapters of co-operation between our two great nations and to give practical shape to the ambitious vision set out by our leadership,” she said.

On the India-Bhutan space journey, Ambassador Kumboj said, “At the heart of this project is the leadership displayed by both the countries. The Royal Vision articulated by His Majesty The King to harness space science and technology for the benefit of Bhutan and to use space activities to create both interest and passion amongst youth for STEM subjects.”

For India, the Ambassador further added that their space program is not just a matter of national pride but a vital instrument of national development and global cooperation, and we are indeed honoured to share our learning and our experience of striving for excellence with Bhutan.

The ceremony was attended by the Indian Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj, Ambassador of Bhutan to India Major General Vetsop Namgyel, Scientific Secretary of the ISRO Umamaheswaran R, Officiating Foreign Secretary Pema Choden, Secretary of MoIC, Phuntsho Tobgay, and officials from the Ministry of External Affairs.

The press release from Indian Embassy states that space technology is a promising area of Bhutan – India cooperation in accordance with the vision of PM Modi and His Majesty The King to take the Bhutan – India partnership to new and emerging areas of the 21st century and add a fresh dimension to the multi-faceted Bhutan – India ties.

The implementing arrangement is a document that lists out the terms and conditions for cooperation between Bhutan and India on the actual development, launch and operation of the joint satellite, thus giving a practical shape to an ambitious vision, added the press release.

In a virtual meeting between PM Modi and Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering on 20 November 2020, PM Modi had announced that the small satellite for Bhutan will be launched in 2021 and that the Indian side will extend capacity building to Bhutanese engineers for this purpose.

Taking this proposal forward, ISRO organized the first phase of training for a team of four Bhutanese space engineers from the DITT, at the UR Rao Satellite Centre (URSC) in Bengaluru, India from 28 December 2020 to 25 February 2021. Phase-I of the training involved various theoretical and technical aspects as well as visits to laboratories and test facilities.

The Bhutanese team will travel to India in October 2021 for Phase-II of the training which would involve activities towards developing the small satellite for Bhutan, INS-2B and integration of Bhutan’s payload into INS-2B, added the press release.

Meanwhile, Bhutan’s satellite will be launched into space on a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), ISRO’s reliable and versatile workhorse launch vehicle from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota along with OceanSat 3- an earth observation satellite dedicated to the study of the atmosphere and the ocean. The satellite itself will be a Cubesat and is being fully funded by the Government of India (GoI).

According to the press release, the primary payload will be a nano-multispectral payload which will provide high resolution images of the earth, thus helping Bhutan in disaster management and resource mapping. The secondary payload is a digipeater, designed and built by Bhutan, which will function as an amateur radio satellite and thus enhance Bhutan’s understanding of wireless communication through satellites.

The capacity building, training and knowledge-sharing of Bhutan’s project team is a key element of the project. The Project is in line with the vision of His Majesty The King of Bhutan to harness space technology and its applications for the benefit of the country and its people.

The project also adheres to PM Modi’s vision to keep our people at the heart of the India-Bhutan relationship. The Project is also in accordance with the GoI’s Neighbourhood First Policy under which India accords priority to its relations with all its neighbours, particularly Bhutan.

Meanwhile, the press release from the DITT states, “In accordance with the implementing arrangement, the DITT and ISRO will cooperate on the development of a joint satellite to be launched sometime towards the end of this year.”

This is in line with the MoU signed on 19 November 2020 between Bhutan and India on Collaboration in Peaceful Uses of Outer Space under the purview of the MoIC.