Courtesy of Brac University, Bangladesh's first footprint in space could happen with a small satellite launched into low earth orbit some time in the middle of next year.
The low-cost small satellite, categorised as nanosat, has been purposefully developed to serve academic and research goals, sources said.
Compared to conventional hi-cost communications satellites, nanosats are small in size, weigh between one and 10kg, and can be placed in low earth orbit, 500 to 1500km above the equator, instead of the more expensive to launch and build geostationary earth orbit satellites, which are placed around 36,000km away from earth.
Bangladesh's first geostationary satellite, Bangabandhu-1, is set to be launched in December, 2017.
Sources at the Bangladesh Space Research and Remote Sensing Organisation (SPARRSO) and at the Brac University said the nanosat venture came in good synchronisation with Bangladesh's first communication satellite as it would help expose the country's young scientists and academics to satellite technology.
Brac University teamed up with Japan's Kyushu Institute of Technology (KIT) to launch the nanosat as early as May next year, Khalilur Rahman, an associate professor of the university's Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) department, told The Daily Star yesterday.
Along with CSE, he said, the departments of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) and Mathematics and Natural Sciences are also involved in the programme.
KIT, of Fukuoka, Japan, has been with Brac University's nanosat launching process since the signing of a memorandum of understanding a couple of years ago.
It will sign a final agreement with Brac University today to launch the nanosat through Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the International Space Station (ISS).
Erstwhile Soviet Union was the first to launch artificial earth satellite -- Sputnik 1 -- into space in 1957 which too was a low earth orbit satellite.
Khalil said ground station of the satellite has been readied on their campus while the designing of the nanosat by Bangladeshi students are nearing completion at KIT's Laboratory of Spacecraft Environment Interaction Engineering.
"We're expecting our nanosat to proceed from JAXA to ISS in March next year and then launched to the LEO [low earth orbit] within the next couple of months."
Brac University sources said once placed in orbit, the satellite would generate high quality photographs of Bangladesh, meteorological data, vegetation, flood, urbanisation, sea area etc and the students and faculties would be able to analyse those for academic and research purposes.
Chief Scientific Officer of SPARRSO Hafizur Rahman welcomed the initiative by a private university. He told The Daily Star that going for low-cost nanosat was a good approach. "These satellites can purposefully be developed to address specific needs like agriculture, disaster, climate etc."
He said a number of Brac University students occasionally visited and worked at SPARRSO and the collaboration was there.
Khalil said the role of Arifur Rahman Khan, a Bangladeshi faculty at University of Texas in El Paso, was instrumental in instilling interest to satellite technology among Brac University fraternity.
Following his post-doctoral research at KIT, Arifur Rahman Khan was appointed as assistant professor of KIT's Laboratory of Spacecraft Environment Interaction Engineering and helped KIT improve its nanosat projects in 2013.
During that period, he visited Bangladesh and later Khalil and a few Brac University students went to KIT and the relationship turned into nanosat collaboration through an MoU signed between the two institutions on May 29, 2014.
In April this year, Arifur Rahman Khan has been hired by University of Texas at El Paso as an assistant professor to develop small satellite facilities, similar to KIT, funded by the United State's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).