By K. Ganesh –
Sri Lanka’s first satellite, curiously named ‘Rāvana-1’, a name that meshes religion, myth and modern science, was launched into space recently apparently marking Sri Lanka’s entry into the “global space age”. But what does this apparently “Sri Lankan” launch into space from another continent really signify?
The so-called research satellite, named RAAVANA-1 was launched from the United States’ Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s East Shore. It was carried by a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket and its unmanned Cygnus spacecraft.
The satellite apparently designed and built at the Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan by Tharindu Dayaratne and Dulani Chamika, two young and unknown Sri Lankan engineers from the Arthur C Clarke Institute, Moratuwa.
It seems that BIRDS-3 satellites from Japan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka were taken to the International Space Station (ISS) as cargo, and boarded onto Antares rocket, which carries the Cygnus cargo spacecraft for a two-day voyage to the space station.
The Rāvana-1 measuring 11.3 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm, and weighing around 1.05 kg is expected to orbit 400 km away from earth. It will have a minimum lifespan of one and half years, but what is the information it will provide and to whom and for what as it orbits off Sri Lanka?
In information economy, with cyber wars on the horizon, information, research and Big Data is key; Data and information analytics is highly sought after and controlled as the struggle to silence WikiLeaks and the arrest of Julian Assange also indicates.
The Rāvana-1 launch, advertised as Sri Lanka’s entry into the “global space age” raises more questions than its data gathering mission may provide answers: What research and data would it generate and who is paying for debt-trapped Sri Lanka’s space enterprise and ‘launch into the global space age”? Conversely, what may be the value of such data and how may a country be paid for data so generated?
Are we seeing a soft power project or subtle weaponization of myth and religion in the context of a concerted extension of a Rāvana Trail and narrative in post-war Sri Lanka where Rāvana and large Hanuman (Anjanaiyar) statues, which are often out of sync with the softer, gentler and smaller local aesthetics and religious sensibilities are popping up in the post-war northeast of Sri Lanka, as India extends her soft power globally and locally, while grandiose Buddhist statues are also popping up?
Or, perhaps Rāvana-1 with the promise of Rāvana-2 is another Indian Ocean quad (US, Japan, India and Australia) quadrilateral security research and development initiative for Sri Lanka in the context of the emerging Cold War in the Indian Ocean as China’s Belt and Road (BRI) initiative winds its way along the land and sea Silk Routes that traversed both Nepal and Sri Lanka?