Nearly four decades after being allotted its own geostationary orbital slot, Nepal Telecommunication Authority (NTA) is finally preparing to put up its own satellite, saving the country billions annually from broadband satellite links for telecommunication, broadcasts and aviation.
Nepal had been given the slot by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) back in 1984, but lack of adequate traffic did not make it viable earlier. But with the increase in connectivity and the adoption of a new telecommunication policy by the government in September last year, the NTA is moving ahead with selection.
“For the moment, we have asked for bids from companies that can advise us on specifications of a geostationary satellite provider, its business viability, as well as draw up a regulatory framework,” Min Prasad Aryal of NTA told Nepali Times.
So far, nine international companies from China, India, UK, France, Singapore, UAE and Germany have submitted Expressions of Interest from the NTA for consultancy services. Aryal said the selection will be shortlisted based 50% on experience, 40% on qualification and 10% on technical and financial capacity.
The company selected will advise NTU on whether it will be more feasible to rent a satellite or launch its own. It will also help draw up the bidding criteria for building and launching its satellite and launch it by 2022.
Depending on the system selected, Nepal’s satellite project is expected to cost at least NRs35 billion. However, the country will be saving on bandwidth rental by direct to home (DTH) satellite services and 50 other satellite telecommunication channels. The country spends NRs250 million annually just on satellite links for DTH.
Geosynchronous satellites orbit at 36,000km above the equator, and because their velocity corresponds to the earth’s rotation, they remain directly above the same spot on the earth’s surface. ITU provides geostationary positions to all countries, even though the slots may not be directly above them.
Nepal’s two radio orbital slots are located at 123.3o East longitude for its Fixed Satellite Service and 50o East for broadcasts.
This is the second time NTA has asked for consultants to bid for Nepal’s satellite program. In 2016, 22 companies from 12 countries had applied, but the Authority then found out that the government did not even have a satellite policy yet, and the bids were cancelled.
This time, the tender notice was issued after the government drew up Nepal’s satellite policy that aimed to put up Nepal’s own satellite by next year.
Aryal says Nepal will save billions of rupees that is currently being spent to rent satellite channels for television broadcasts, DTH, internet and phone links to remote mountain areas, as well as military and security communications. He said the bandwidth would also increase with Nepal’s own satellite, improving the quality and reliability of signals.
“Areas of Nepal that are not covered by telecommunication service like Karnali Province, Achham or Darchula can easily be connected to the internet,” says Sudhir Parajuli of the Internet Service Providers Association. “Television channels will benefit even more.”
In addition, there will be applications in the civil aviation sector as well as for radio and tv companies to expand services, weather forecasting and for search, rescue and relief after natural disasters.
Besides a geosynchronous satellite, Nepal last year launched its first low orbit mini-satellite NepaliSat-1 from a NASA rocket base in Virginia. Called a ‘cube satellite’, the craft weighed only 1.3kg and orbited the earth four times a day at an altitude of 400km for six months after its launch in June 2019.
The cube satellite was under the BIRDS project of Japan’s Kyushu University and the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology with two Nepali scientists.