In his first bilateral meeting, the new President of Japan’s space agency JAXA, Dr. Hiroshi Yamakawa, met with Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay on 11 April to discuss cooperation in space.
The meeting took place during Tobgay’s visit to Japan, where he also met Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe amd Crown Prince of Japan Naruhito, and participated in a Summit which reaffirmed Japan’s committment to Bhutan’s 12th Five-Year Plan.
During the meeting between Yamakawa and Tobgay, the two parties discussed Bhutan’s first satellite, BHUTAN-1, which will be launched this year from Kibo, Japan’s module on the International Space Station (ISS).
BHUTAN-1 was developed under JAXA’s BIRDS project, an international initiative led by Japan’s Kyushu University, in which university students from non-spacefaring nations develop 1U cubesats that will eventually form a constellation. Last year, an initial 5 cubesats were launched.
BHUTAN-1, which will be part of the second phase of the project, will be launched together with cubesats from the Philippines and Malaysia. The satellite’s payloads include two cameras and a message relaying system for amateur users. The satellite has been completed and delivered to JAXA in preparation for the launch, which is estimated to take place in June.
Besides BHUTAN-1, the two parties discussed cooperation in Bhutan’s nascent space programme, particularly in the field education, as well as ways to further Bhutan’s space activities. Currently, Bhutan does not have an official space programme, although it is part of the JAXA-led Sentinel Asia programme which allows member countries to share data for disaster-relief purposes. Bhutan is also a member for the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF), and will utilize India’s GSAT-9, a geostationary communications satellite meant for South Asian countries, and whish is therefore also known as the South Asia Satellite.