Deal signed with French company
Bangladesh yesterday signed a $248-million deal with French company Thales Alenia Space for manufacturing and launching the country's first satellite: Bangabandhu-1.
The company has to complete the project by 2017, according to the deal. But if it fails to meet the deadline, it will have to pay fines.
The total project cost will run into Tk 2,967.95 crore, with about 56 percent of the fund coming from foreign loans. The government will provide the rest, Md Golam Razzaque, project director of Bangbandhu-1 satellite, told The Daily Star.
The government would have to pay back the loans in 15 years. But the interest rate for the loans was yet to be fixed, he said.
BTRC officials involved with the project said the agreement would be effective for five years but the BTRC could extend it. Thales Alenia would train Bangladeshi technicians for ground handling and maintenance of the satellite.
Shahjahan Mahmood, chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, and Jean Loic Galle, president and chief executive officer of Thales Alenia Space, inked the deal in the capital's Sonargaon Hotel.
BTRC officials said the satellite would narrow the digital divide, create jobs and facilitate services such as direct-to-home broadcasting facilities.
It would also help improve weather forecast system and facilitate exploration of natural resources on land and in sea.
Bangladesh's satellite-related needs are now met by renting bandwidth from different operators for almost $14 million a year. Once launched, Bangabandhu-1 will save this annual cost, they added.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, Tarana Halim, state minister for posts and telecommunication, said the government wanted to launch the commercial and broadcast satellite on December 16, 2017 to mark the 45th anniversary of the country's victory in the Liberation War.
“This contract is the final step towards fulfilling our long-cherished dream of launching the first satellite of Bangladesh -- Bangabandhu Satellite-1,” she said.
After signing the deal, Shahjahan said, “We are entering the space age and it [the satellite] will create history for the country.”
He said the BTRC would set up a company to run the satellite business.
In 15 years, the country would earn $1 billion by leasing out transponders and another $1.5 billion by selling other services to different countries.
Once the project is completed, Bangladesh will be the 57th country to have a broadcast and communication satellite, said the BTRC chairman.
Jean Loic Galle, the CEO of Thales Alenia Space, said the project could help change Bangladesh's socio-economic condition.
Under the agreement, the French company will be paid $248 million (Tk 1,951 crore) and incentives if it launches the satellite before the deadline.
Bangabandhu-1 would be launched either from satellite launching station Ariane France or SpaceX in the USA, local representatives of Thales Alenia told The Daily Star.
Bangladesh will launch the satellite in the orbital slot at longitude 119.1 degree east with 40 transponders. Earlier this year, it bought the slot from Intersputnik, a Russian satellite company, for $28 million for 15 years.
The French company has already started construction work at two ground handling stations at Telecom Staff College in Gazipur and Betbunia Earth Station in Rangamati, said officials.
Razzaque said the project would reach breakeven in five years. It would allow the regulator to sell excess capacity to other nations.
The satellite will be able to provide services to all South Asian countries, as well as Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, if its frequency is properly coordinated, he added.
The telecom regulator floated tenders in April and received bids from four companies -- Thales Alenia Space, China's Great Wall Industry Corporation, USA's Orbit ATA and Canada's MDA.
Thales Alenia was the second lowest bidder with an offer of $248 million while the MDA was the lowest bidder with $222.75 million.
On October 20, the cabinet purchase committee approved the deal in favour of Thales Alenia, as the other participants became non-responsive during the bidding process, according to BTRC officials.
Both financial aspect and technical side were considered in selecting the bidder, they added.