Wednesday, December 20, 2006
US helping India become global space power
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: India is said to be ramping up its space capabilities in an effort to be seen as a major global space power. It is moving beyond its traditional missions of developing communications and remote sensing satellites to focus on new areas, such as navigation, while also working on its first mission to the Moon, perhaps by the end of the next decade, according to a published report.
The Space Review, a US publication, in an article by Jeff Foust said that India had attracted the attention of the United States as a potential partner in space endeavours. IndiaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s space programme is branching out into new fields, including satellite navigation and space science. India has also recently indicated that it is revisiting its previous opposition to a human space flight programme, and is already taking steps towards developing the technology needed for such missions. These developments all provide a new opportunity for cooperation for the US, with far less geopolitical baggage for America than dealing with China or even Russia.
Foust writes that IndiaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s space programme goes back 40 years. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been devoted for most of its history to efforts with primarily practical applications, rather than for national prestige. Now, though, as India has built up its domestic space infrastructure, the government has shown a willingness to move beyond communications and remote sensing applications. While India is a partner in EuropeĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Galileo satellite navigation system currently under development, and has agreed to work with Russia to repopulate its GLONASS navigation system, ISRO announced earlier this year plans to develop its own regional satellite navigation system, building the satellites, ground stations, and receivers all within India.
According to the article, India is also looking at applications that, unlike navigation, communications, or remote sensing, donĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t have an obvious practical role in aiding the countryĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s development. ISRO is developing its first planetary science mission, the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter, scheduled for launch in early 2008. That spacecraft is not intended to be a one-time mission, as the Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“1Ă˘â‚¬Âť designation after its name suggests: other science missions to the Moon and even Mars are in the early planning stages. While the initial focus of IndiaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s manned space programme is on an orbital flight, similar to ChinaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Shenzhou spacecraft, the countryĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s scientists have ambitious plans.
The author believes that this change in both Indian ambitions and capabilities should open up new opportunities for cooperation with the US. In fact, such cooperation is already taking place. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, relations between the US and India have improved considerably. In the space programme, one area of interest has been in navigation, including making sure any Indian satellite navigation system is interoperable with the US GPS system. A US company, Raytheon, is already working with India to develop a terrestrial GPS augmentation system for aviation applications that is analogous to similar systems in the US, Europe, and Japan.
The article says that the US is also in the process of negotiating a commercial space launch agreement with India that would allow US satellites to be launched on Indian vehicles. These negotiations, says a US official, Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“hopefully will be reaching a critical stage in the near futureĂ˘â‚¬Âť. A separate agreement being negotiated by the State Department to cover the handing of sensitive American technologies on such spacecraft; that effort Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“has gone very well and is relatively close to conclusion,Ă˘â‚¬Âť he said. While there are still many hurdles ahead for US-India space cooperation, such as the current restrictive export control regime in the US, many in both countries see signs of more positive developments, particularly as IndiaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s space capabilities become more sophisticated. While some have criticised India for devoting as many resources as it has to its space programme, according to former US ambassador Teresita Schaffer such efforts in both the US and India are not out of line, given the deep pools of technical talent in both countries.