The significance of space research in areas such as communication, disaster response, economy and defence is now indisputable across the world. Developed countries consider space as an integral part of their strategic planning. Unfortunately space has not yet made its way into our policy making. Bangladesh Space Research and Remote Sensing Organisation (SPARRSO) was founded 42 years ago, but it has remained a nominal space research organisation till now.
Prothom Alo reports that although SPARRSO is the national space agency, it had no involvement with the launch of Bangabandhu-1, the country's first and only satellite. The reason was SPARRSO does not have its own satellite technology programme required for a space research organisation.
Besides the agency does not have satellite launch station, orbit, own satellite and relevant technology related research centre. In short, the organisation does not have any infrastructure except for a ground station funded by foreign grants.
The agency also lacks the manpower and investment needed to run a research organisation like SPARRSO. The organisation has a crisis of scientists. Currently only 23 are working where there are posts of 63 scientific officers and engineers.
Two of them are on academic leave currently. In other areas also there is a huge shortage of required workforce. Most of SPARRSO's technical departments are nominally operational due to the manpower crisis. Some scientific officers are in charge of more than one department. The most appalling thing is the agency appoints it chairman from the BCS officials having no knowledge of this specialised research institute.
Despite being a research organisation, SPARRSO’s contribution to research is trivial. A total of 117 studies have been conducted by the organisation from 2008-09 to 2020-21. The organisation has 16 divisions. On average, each department has done one study per year. Shortage of skilled and adequate manpower along with lack of suitable and planned allocation is also responsible for lack of adequate and quality research.
Short, medium and long term plans are adopted in 2020 to accelerate SPARRSO. According to the short-term plan, two satellite ground stations are to be established by 2024 and the feasibility study for developing earth observation satellites suitable for the country and placing in orbit. But the project proposal given by the organization has not been passed yet. When this is the condition of short-term planning, it is easily assumable what may happen with med-term and long-term planning.
The space economy has now occupied an important spot in the global economy. Currently its size is 386 billion US dollars. We live in a digital life along with real life.
Hundreds of people around the world use satellite services every day for various purposes including watching television, using smartphones or paying various bills online. At the beginning of 2022, the number of satellites in orbit has reached over five thousand. The space economy will grow bigger and stronger in the coming days. But our contribution to the space economy is insignificant.
Our policy makers must realise the importance of space research. How can we build digital Bangladesh leaving space research in organisations like SPARRSO unexplored?
It is important to make SPARRSO a practical space research organisation with future prospects in mind. Allocations should be increased beside the implementation of the plan taken by APARRSO. SPARRSO must be made self-sufficient.