India’s Space Odyssey

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To begin with, the use of scientific collaboration among nations to address common problems and build constructive International partnerships is Space Diplomacy.

One of the effective tools of Foreign policy has been technological capabilities in outer space. Technological capacity-based diplomacy may very well hold the key to deepening relationships both regionally and internationally for India.

India is considered to be a leader in societal applications of space technology and has played quite a significant role in capacity building for other developing countries.

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has successfully demonstrated the use of space technology to solve local problems of land, water, forests and crop etc.

To recall some of such prominent exchanges, India has some of the best remote sensing satellites in the world and it has provisioned downlink capabilities for these remote sensing satellites for a number of countries.

India shares data with countries and is part of international forums such as United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UNSPIDER). Manning through alert systems these unmanned railway crossings, identifying water sources, pipeline safety are some of the space supported activities which may just be a tip of iceberg of using space in improving standards of living of the people, which may well be deduced as a part of diplomacy by the government.

India’s space prowess must be effectively used as a tool in diplomacy and foreign policy not only for regional capacity building and collaboration with developing nations but also for enhancing India’s role in a global framework.

As one understands, our country is not only augmenting its capacity and capabilities of using space technology products and services to support commercial space activities and for agricultural purposes but also to pursue diplomatic and security objectives. To meet the growing demands of our growing population and provide nationwide communication, disaster management, meteorological forecasting, agricultural development, health management, education and a host of vital nationwide applications, it’s essential to have a robust space technology.

How far India really is in the SPACE world?

To better understand, we must know about The Federal Aviation Administration.

(FAA) of the United States is a national authority with powers to regulate all aspects of civil aviation. These include the construction and operation of airports, the management of air traffic, the certification of personnel and aircraft, and the protection of US assets during the launch or re entry of commercial space vehicles.

Now there are 2 kinds of launches, commercial and non commercial (military & civil) and the FAA report says only 26 percent of total launches were commercial on 2015.Out of the 22 commercial launches, the US had 8 launches, Russia (5), and Europe (6)

Overall, India launched only five vehicles, of which only two PSLVs were commercial. So, that places India at the bottom in space market. India earned only $66 million in revenues. Europe earned $1,066 million and the US $617.

Can we analyze why India’s share is so low

Well, the market lies in launching heavier satellites; ISRO needs to develop more missions to launch heavier satellites. It is still only a master at launching PSLV, which can carry only 2,000 kg or less into a Low Earth Orbit

If India needs to gain an edge in the space economy, it has to further develop its GSLV with a capacity of over 3,000-5,000 kg to launch heavier satellites into a geostationary orbit (GSO or GTO, over 36,000 km above earth surface). ISRO has completed only three GSLV launches since 2014.

Launch of SAARC Satellite and Opportunities Ahead.

India prioritized South Asia in its neighborhood foreign policy agenda knowing full well that to achieve foreign policy goals it has to harness its space activity.

Aligned to the vision of the architect of space tech- Dr Vikram Sarabhai who said “To be second to none in the development of space technology and its applications to solve the real problems of man and society”- India embarked on an unprecedented and Un-chartered ‘stratospheric diplomacy’ through the launch of the iconic GSAT-9 also dubbed the South Asia Satellite, or SAARC Satellite which the world watched in awe, aiming to provide space-enabled services to other South Asian countries, a special Rs 250 crore gift for south Asians. Its Salient features being 2230 kg satellite, cuboid in shape, built around a central cylinder and has 12 Ku transponders.

This initiative is part of our country’s broader effort to demonstrate its rising global stature   and the progress of its space program, while also bolstering the country’s neighborhood diplomacy, enhancing regional cooperation and connectivity, and improving service delivery.

Built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the rocket blasted off using the Geostationary Launch Vehicle (GSLV Mk –II Launch Vehicle, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, on 5th May 2017. The satellite, costing around Rs 250 crore, is meant for providing communication and disaster support, connectivity among the countries of South Asia region. Its mission life will span 12 years.

The South Asia Satellite aims to enhance bilateral and multilateral engagement & cooperation, with enhancing connectivity and smooth delivery of services.

The Indian government’s statement marking the launch of the satellite mentioned that it would pave the way for direct-to-home television, Internet connectivity, tele-education, telemedicine, and disaster management support during natural disasters. The satellite is also expected to help support meteorological applications, fishing and agricultural advisory notices, and natural resource mapping.

Given South Asia’s geographical and geological diversity and the high frequency of natural disasters like cyclones and earthquakes in the region, space-enabled services that augment natural resource management and disaster response will benefit affected states in a huge manner.

Road Ahead

India has to keep abreast of the vast developments in space technology and their utilization.

Optimal utilization of space technology is the best weapon we have, to augment our energy, mineral and other vital resources and help the survival of humanity on our own planet earth.

The key to tap India’s huge potential in space, and its favorable demographic distribution would be to promote a knowledge based economy, where innovation is nurtured and allowed to grow. The belief that innovation lies at the heart of entrepreneurship, acts as an agent of progress of the economy.

As we saw India and ISRO create history, it can be deduced that the evolution of the Indian space program over the past four decades has been systematic with a phased approach towards building a strong knowledge base, technological capacity, and an organizational system to ensure effective application of space technologies for national development.

India has indigenously developed technologies in the field of satellite communications and launch vehicles, after being denied technology by the developed space faring nations because of its nuclear program and its stance on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However going by the daunting spirit of persuasion and passion of us Indians, the Indian space scientists relentlessly worked towards accomplishing certain visions.

With Make In India initiative in the forefront, ISRO should gear up to have Business Incubation Centre along the lines of NASA Research Park as space research is truly inter-disciplinary in nature and has enabled innovations. These kinds of initiatives would enhance skill development in space sphere and bring in more young minds resulting in a better and bright future for India.

The government needs to put in place a long-term plan to make India’s current international position unassailable and sustainable among the global pantheon of space giants.

With ISRO’s growing ambitions, the inevitability of India becoming a regional space superpower is very much existent. The road to global leadership starts with regional diplomacy and, for India, outer space has emerged as a promising venue for projecting its influence. As such, the launch of the South Asia Satellite is noteworthy and is bound to have significant implications for India, the region, and beyond in the years to come.