Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Outer space


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Read the attached story

Mains level: Outer Spaces and its utility

In opening new pathways for outer space cooperation in the recent US visit, PM Modi has positioned India to engage more productively with a rapidly evolving domain that is seeing more commerce and contestation.

Outer Space Cooperation: A backgrounder

  • International cooperation is the new normal in space exploration, but it’s not a new concept.
  • One example of this cooperation is the International Space Station (ISS).
  • Another advance in international cooperation in the peaceful exploration of outer space came with the Artemis Accords.
  • Introduced in October 2020, the Artemis Accords establish a set of principles to guide space cooperation among countries participating in NASA’s Artemis program.

There are five treaties that deal with issues related to outer space

  1. Moon Treaty: Non-appropriation of outer space by any one country, arms control, the freedom of exploration
  2. Liability Convention: Liability for damage caused by space objects
  3. Rescue Agreement: Safety and rescue of spacecraft and astronauts
  4. Outer Space Treaty: Prevention of harmful interference with space activities and the environment
  5. Registration Convention: Notification and registration of space activities, scientific investigation and exploitation of natural resources in outer space and the settlement of disputes

Why does Outer Spaces matter?

  • Space situational awareness (SSA) involves monitoring the movement of all objects — natural (meteors) and man-made (satellites) — and tracking space weather.
  • Today, space is integral to our lives and disruption of space-based communications and earth observation will have serious consequences.

India’s strategic interest in Outer Space

Delhi’s new strategic interest in outer space is based on a recognition of two important trends.

  1. Centrality of emerging technologies in shaping the 21st-century global order
  2. Urgency of writing new rules for the road to peace and stability in outer space

Why need US for this?

  • Technology cooperation has always been an important part of India-US relations.
  • But it has been a boutique discourse between the relevant agencies of the two governments.
  • The US has traditionally dominated outer space in the commercial domain.
  • As emerging technologies overhaul global economic and security structures, Delhi and Washington now have to widen the interface of technology.

Why need a comprehensive outer space treaty?

  • Although human forays into space began in the middle of the 20th century, the intensity of that activity as well as its commercial and security implications have dramatically increased in recent decades.
  • Outer space has become a location for lucrative business as well as a site of military competition between states.
  • Until recently, outer space has been the sole preserve of states. But private entities are now major players in space commerce.
  • At the same time, as space becomes a critical factor in shaping the military balance of power on the earth, there is growing competition among states.

Expanding QUAD in this term

  • Until now, the maritime domain has dominated the strategic cooperation bilaterally between Delhi and Washington as well as within the Quad.
  • The annual Malabar naval exercise, for example, began nearly three decades ago as a bilateral venture in 1992 and became a quadrilateral one in 2020 with the participation of Australia.

Why does US need India in OST?

  • India, which has developed significant space capabilities over the decades, is a deeply invested party.
  • The US recognises that it can’t unilaterally define the space order anymore and is looking for partners.
  • International cooperation on space situational awareness is similar to the agreements on maritime domain awareness — that facilitate sharing of information on a range of ocean metrics.
  • India has been strengthening its maritime domain awareness through bilateral agreements as well as the Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) at Gurugram.
  • India has also taken tentative steps to cope with the unfolding military challenges in outer space.
  • It has also initiated space security dialogue with close partners like the US, Japan, and France.

Making a first global move

  • When signed, the agreement with the US on SSA will be the first of its kind for India.
  • Washington has agreements with more than two dozen countries on SSA.
  • The US and Indian delegations have also discussed a US initiative called the Artemis Accords — that seek to develop norms for activity in the Moon and other planetary objects.

Way forward

  • As commercial and military activity in outer space grows, the 20th-century agreements like Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Treaty (1979) need reinforcement and renewal.
  • The growing strategic salience of outer space demands substantive national policy action in India.
  • That can only be mandated by the highest political level. Back in 2015, PM Modi’s speech on the Indian Ocean focused national attention on maritime affairs.
  • India could do with a similar intervention on outer space today.


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