Bangladesh blasted its way into the space age Friday after U.S. company SpaceX launched Dhaka’s Bangabandhu-1 satellite into orbit, in a social-media event described by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as a “glorious day” for the South Asian country.
The French-made communications satellite, which cost U.S. $250 million, took off at 4:14 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) on top of a SpaceX rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., atop a reusable Falcon 9 Force 5 rocket. The emblem of Bangladesh’s government decorated the exterior of the capsule holding the satellite.
“From now on, we become a proud member of the satellite club,” a beaming Hasina said in a pre-recorded address that was broadcast on national television and social media minutes after the successful launch. “We entered into a new era.”
The 3.9-ton satellite traveled to a path 22,000 miles above Earth and went into orbit at 4:52 p.m.
SpaceX, a privately-owned California-based space transportation firm, said in a statement that the satellite would provide telecommunications coverage for Bangladesh and surrounding nations, and would also allow Bangladeshis living in remote, previously-unreached areas to receive internet and phone service.
About eight minutes after lift-off, the first stage of the rocket safely landed on an autonomous drone ship floating more than 300 miles off the Atlantic coast.
The SpaceX rocket tried to take off on Thursday, but the launch was aborted just one minute before its lift-off time of 5:47 p.m. due to a problem with ground systems that automatically triggered the vehicle’s abort sequence, according to a press statement from SpaceX.
“This is a historic occasion, which is a matter of great pride for the people of Bangladesh within the country and beyond,” said Mohammad Ziauddin, Bangladesh’s ambassador to the United States, in a statement on Thursday.
The satellite, built by Thales Alenia Space, of Cannes, France, was named after Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s founding father and Hasina’s father who was assassinated in 1975.
It is expected to have a 15-year lifespan and will help save money for the Dhaka government, which currently spends $14 million annually to rent from the services of foreign satellites, government officials said.
SpaceX’s newest rocket, the Falcon 9 Force 5, propelled the satellite into orbit. If all goes as planned, SpaceX would fly the same rocket twice in a single day in 2019, which would be another first for the company.
The satellite’s coverage area includes Bangladesh and other countries, including India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Indonesia, according to a Thales statement.
“The Bangabandhu satellite will help to make Bangladesh an advanced country,” Shahjahan Mahmood, chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, which will manage the satellite, told the Dhaka Tribune.
“It would also speed up many aspects of our daily life.”