From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : NISAR
Mains level : US- India space collaboration
- India and the United States agreeing to advance space collaboration in several areas, under the ‘initiative on critical and emerging technology’ umbrella, including human space exploration and commercial space partnership, comes at a crucial time for both countries. This follows from the eighth meeting of the U.S.-India Civil Space Joint Working Group (CSJWG), that was held on January 30-31, 2023.
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Limiting factors in India-U.S. space cooperation
- Mismatch in the two nations interests in outer space: The first structural factor that limits long-term India-U.S. space cooperation is the mismatch in the two nations interests in outer space.
- American ambitions beyond earth orbits: Although the U.S. and its partners stress the importance of maintaining capabilities in low-earth orbit, their ambitions are firmly set on the moon.
- India’s current focus is on increasing its satellite launch capabilities: India’s scientific community focuses on building the nation’s capability in and under earth orbits. The Gaganyaan human space flight programme hopes to sustain India’s human presence in space for the long term. This is not to say that India does not aim for the moon, Mars or beyond. But India’s top priority is to substantially increase its satellite and launch capabilities in earth orbits and catch up with other spacefaring nations such as China.
- The asymmetry in capabilities: The U.S. has the highest number of registered satellites in space. It also has a range of launch vehicles serving both commercial and national-security needs.
- Private sector, for instance: Private entity SpaceX, for example, managed to achieve a record 61 launches in 2022, far higher than the number of launches undertaken by any other commercial entity or country. The American private sector has also assumed the challenge of replacing the International Space Station by 2030 with many smaller stations.
- The greatest challenge for India here is lack of capacity: The country has just over 60 satellites in orbit and cannot undertake double-digit launches annually. The Indian government also opened the space industry to the private sector only in 2020. Since the U.S. already has an extensive network of partners for space cooperation, it has few technical incentives to cooperate with India.
- Disagreements on govern space activities: Compounding these problems are disagreements on how best to govern space activities on the moon and other celestial bodies. Even though countries have a mindset to collaborate, the structural factors overpower diplomatic incentives to pursue long-term cooperation.
Have you read about “NISAR”?
- NISAR has been built by space agencies of the US and India under a partnership agreement signed in 2014.
- The 2,800 kilograms satellite consists of both L-band and S-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) instruments, which makes it a dual-frequency imaging radar satellite.
- While NASA has provided the L-band radar, GPS, a high-capacity solid-state recorder to store data, and a payload data subsystem, ISRO has provided the S-band radar, the GSLV launch system and spacecraft.
- Another important component of the satellite is its large 39-foot stationary antenna reflector.
- Made of a gold-plated wire mesh, the reflector will be used to focus the radar signals emitted and received by the upward-facing feed on the instrument structure.
Some novel solutions
- Sustained engagement: The standard solution to induce long-term cooperation is to sustain the engagement between academics, the private sector and state-led entities in the two countries. Sustained engagement could also take the form of collaborating on highly specialised projects such as the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission.
- Cooperation and collaboration between state and private entities: One form of cooperation is a partnership between state and private entities; or, as agreed in the most recent meeting, a convention of American and Indian aerospace companies to advance collaboration under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programme. Such an arrangement could be taken further.
- Reducing dependence: India could send its astronauts to train at American private companies. This could help India reduce its dependence on Russia while ISRO builds its own astronaut training centre.
- Government-owned New Space India Limited: Another novel arrangement could be a consortium led by the government-owned New Space India Limited which involves private companies in the U.S. This setup could accelerate India’s human spaceflight programme and give the U.S. an opportunity to accommodate Indian interests in earth orbits.
- The US and India have taken significant strides in advancing the private space sector. Together, these endeavors have the capability to shape and impact U.S. and Indian space policies and programmes over the next decade.
Q. The US and India have taken significant strides in space cooperation. Discuss the limiting factors and suggest probable solutions.
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