A rocket scientist and entrepreneur with experience in spacecraft development and operations, Bidushi Bhattacharya is co-founder of Astropreneurs HUB and Bhattacharya Space Enterprises. Apart from being a space enthusiast, she is a pioneer in academic administration, scientific research and technical writing.
With over two decades of experience in space and astronomy, she has worked with NASA, as a scientist and engineer. As a part of her profile, she has analyzed and synthesized technical information and played key role in fostering communication between academic and industrial teams with varying priorities and work cultures, both within the US and overseas. Her projects in NASA have included the work on Hubble Space Telescope, the Mars Rover Program, the Galileo Mission to Jupiter, the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, and others.
With Astropreneurs HUB, which is Southeast Asia’s first space technology incubator and Bhattacharya Space Enterprises, a Singaporean startup dedicated to space-related education and training, she intends to offer unprecedented access to the outer space. BSE is working towards increasing technical capacity at all levels through education, training and launch opportunities using “CubeSatellites”, a highly disruptive technology.
Her rich experience in higher education research development includes achievements like establishment of the Office of Sponsored Research for science programs at Claremont McKenna, Pitzer and Scripps Colleges, in Claremont, California, where she increased federal award rates by 67%, and managed $4 million in active grants.
Astronaut Today got in touch with Bidushi Bhattacharya, who is a PhD and MS in Space Physics from the UCLA Department of Atmospheric Sciences, a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and B.A. in Physics from Rutgers University. In this candid chat, she talks about education in astronomy, her plans of expansion to India, challenges and much more. Read the detailed interview as below:
Astronaut Today: Would you like to talk about your initiative Bhattacharya Space Enterprises and how is it educating kids in the area of space?
Bidushi Bhattacharya: Our goal is to establish Asia as the global hub for NewSpace (commercial space industry) development. Educating kids is a critical part of this effort, as they will serve as our engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and visionaries in the decades to come.
AT: Do you think similar approaches are needed in other countries say India? Do you have plans of expanding to India?
BB: Our plan is certainly to expand to India, and we have proposals in to a few institutions to implement training programs locally. It really helps to be involved in a country where education is highly valued by the whole society and the space program is part of the national identity and a source of national pride.
AT: How did the transition from being a NASA scientist to founding BSE and Astropreneurs HUB Pte. Ltd. happen? Why did you decide to plunge into education and space exploration in private sector?
BB: I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship, and I took advantage of a great opportunity a few years ago to move to Asia, where the market and interests are huge.
AT: Do you feel there is a need to privatize the space industry and why? The concept of New Space is on a rise. Do you think it’s heading the right way?
BB: Government space agencies do what they do very well, and the privatized space industry “NewSpace” would not be possible without their groundwork. However, large governmental agencies are not very agile, as we all know, which is where smaller companies and startups in NewSpace can step in and move technology forward in a much more rapid way.
AT: What are the recent developments in astronomy/space that have been the most revolutionary incidents in the last few decades according to you?
BB: Firstly, the development of “CubeSats”– miniaturized, independently functioning satellites. Benefits of CubeSats include 1/100th cost of a traditional satellite, rapid development and build schedules that allow the inclusion of the latest and greatest electronics and innovative systems and use of standardized, commercial off-the-shelf technology to lower cost.
Secondly, ISRO’s unprecedented ability to deploy large numbers of payloads using the highly reliable PSLV and their success with a low-cost mission to Mars.
Thirdly, Musk and SpaceX’s big visions to successfully deploy reusable rocket technology to eventually take humanity to the Moon and Mars.
AT: Would you like to enlighten our readers keen on venturing into this space on how prepare themselves for a career in astronomy? Do you think there is a need to improve the scenario of space education?
BB: Astronomy, Space Science and Technology and related areas need expertise in everything from the sciences and engineering to the social sciences and arts. I’d suggest following current activity in NewSpace, as there is so much going on, and unimaginable opportunities will arise for experts in all disciplines, particularly as we increase human presence in Space
Space education needs to become widely available to meet the demands of NewSpace in the coming 3-5 years. This area is growing exponentially, and we need young people to learn all they can and set up their own innovative space-related startups!
AT: What are the risks and challenges at the current scenario around space? How could they be dealt with?
BB: The biggest risk is the over-inflated sense of risk among the public and investors. The public sees space as a risky endeavor, which means that parents are less likely to encourage their kids on related career paths and investors are more likely to be uncertain about putting money into startups. Those of us who’ve been in the business for the past quarter century know that space-related tech usually gets the job done, and even when things don’t go according to plan we can figure out a workaround.
AT: What are the common industries that get benefitted with exploiting Space?
BB: Space-based observations of Earth are already providing big data solutions in agriculture, weather monitoring, disaster management, GIS, and telco. Future benefits will come to the mining industry with asteroid mining and to the health industry through development of devices to support the human presence in space. Furthermore, there are certain things you can only do in space that are not feasible on Earth, such as the development of certain pharmaceuticals in zero-gravity.
I’m sure I could give lots and lots more examples. I’m also sure that today’s youth will come up with products and services that are yet to be imagined and defined?