Home SAARC Satellite to Strengthen Relations with Neighbours

SAARC Satellite to Strengthen Relations with Neighbours

Moments after the June 30 spectacularly successful mission of India’s four-stage, 230-tonne PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) from the Indian spaceport on Sriharikota island, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the scientists of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) highlighted the need for India to develop a satellite catering exclusively to the needs of SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation) countries. This was the first Indian space mission to be witnessed by Modi after he took over as the Prime Minister of India in May. Modi, who has been keen on strengthening India’s bilateral relations with South Asian neighbours right from the outset, was clear that this satellite can be dedicated as “India’s gift to neighbours”. Clearly and apparently, a visibly delighted Modi wanted the fruits of Indian expertise in space technology to reach other developing countries. Incidentally, India happens to be the only South Asian country to possess the capability to build and launch state-of-the-art spacecraft for a variety of applications including communications and broadcasting, weather watch, earth observation, navigation as well as scientific research. India, which began its space journey in Nov 1963 with the launch of a 9-kg sounding rocket from a space facility in the fishing hamlet of Thumba near to Thiruvananthapuram, has successfully launched more than 100 space missions including probes to the Moon and Mars. The first Indian built satellite Aryabhata was launched in 1975. ”We should have bigger satellites with larger power. We also have to further our international partnership in space technology,” said Modi. Modi was also quick to go back to the ancient Indian cultural roots with his observation “India’s age old ethos is rooted in the concept of the whole world being one family. India’s space programme is driven by a vision to serve humanity and not a desire for power.”

Rightly and appropriately, Modi wanted the SAARC satellite to be built and launched by ISRO to provide a full range of applications and services to help South Asian countries speed up the pace of their socio economic development. ”Such a satellite will be helpful in SAARC nations’ fight against poverty and illiteracy, the challenge to progress in scientific field and will open up avenues  to provide  opportunities to the youths of SAARC countries,” observed Modi. No doubt, an exclusive SAARC satellite will not only help project Indian ‘soft power’ in South Asian region but also help earn the country goodwill from its immediate neighbours. Moreover, a dedicated SAARC satellite will stand out as a symbol of India’s technological excellence. Modi also urged the Indian space agency to expand the footprints of India’s satellite based navigation satellite system (IRNSS) to cover the entire South Asia region. Significantly, ISRO is working on the realization of India’s full-fledged satellite navigation system IRNSS (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System) with two spacecraft already in orbit. The eight member countries of SAARC are: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India. As it is, leaders from six SAARC nations had attended the swearing ceremony of Narendra Modi in New Delhi on May.26

Giving a philosophical thrust to the SAARC satellite proposal, Modi noted, “India’s space programme is driven by the vision of service to humankind and not by the desire for power. We must therefore share the fruits of space technology with those who don’t have expertise and our neighbours in particular.” Modi was also keen that the scope of “Indian space technology should be enhanced by forging up partnership”. The SAARC satellite that India could fund and build would feature the technological strides made by ISRO in  the area of designing and developing state of the art satellite systems for a variety of applications. Modi also took the opportunity to compliment ISRO for developing frugal engineering skill and technological ingenuity to turn Indian space venture into a success story on shoestring budget, Modi stated, “I have heard that our Mars mission cost less than the Hollywood movie Gravity”.

Indeed, the tech-savvy Modi was clear in his perception that the down-to-earth applications of space technology is one of the best prescriptions for spurring the engine of growth and development in this part of Asia. ”Many misunderstand space technology to be for elite. That it has nothing to do with the common man. I, however, believe such a technology is fundamentally connected with the common man. As a change agent, it can empower and connect to transform one’s life. It drives our modern communications, connecting even the remotest family to the mainstream.”

Modi who went round the facilities at the Sriharikota’s space port congratulated ISRO scientists for the successful PSLV mission. Referring to the flawless PSLV launch, Modi noted ”PSLV’s successful launch fills every Indian heart with joy and pride. Today’s launch of five foreign satellites is a global endorsement of India’s space capability.” Going ahead, Modi expressed the view that space was the “one domain where India was at the international cutting edge, a domain in which we have pushed beyond mediocrity to achieve excellence.”

Modi also left none in doubt that he wanted India to be a major player in the multi-billion dollar global market for launching satellites for a fee. Incidentally, the PSLV mission witnessed by Modi launched as many as five satellites of international customers on commercial terms .The five satellites placed into their intended orbit by PSLV, described as Indian space workhorse, in less than twenty minutes of its smooth take off were: 714-kg French Spot-7, 14-kg AISAT from Germany, 7-kg Velox-1 from Singapore as well as NLS 7.1 and NLS 7.2 each weighing 15-kg from Canada.

This was the 26th consecutive successful PSLV mission. With the successful accomplishment of this mission, the number of foreign satellites launched for a fee on-board PSLV has gone up to 40. According to K Radhakrishnan, Chairman, ISRO this was PSLV’s third dedicated commercial mission since it started offering the services of launching satellites of foreign customers for a fee beginning May 1999. In all, PSLV has launched a total of 70 satellites since its successful debut flight in 1994.

Antrix Corporation, the Bangalore based commercial arm of the Indian space programme has been promoting PSLV as a cost effective and reliable space vehicle for launching multiple satellite probes. In pursuance of its objective of marketing the services of PSLV, Antrix Corp has entered into lunch services agreement with DMC International Imaging (DMCII), the wholly owned subsidiary of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd of UK, for the launch of its three DMC-3 earth observation satellites at the head of PSLV. Antrix has also signed launch services agreement with ST Electronics (Satcoms and Sensor Systems) Pvt Ltd of Singapore for launching its TeLEOS-1 remote sensing satellite by means of a PSLV flight. Antrix sources said that these launches are planned to take place during 2014-15 timeframe. Yet another PSLV commercial mission envisaged for the second half of this decade would orbit EnMap, the German hyper spectral environmental mapping satellite. With a lift off weight of 870-kg, EnMap would be the heaviest payload to be launched by PSLV under a commercial contract. Under yet another commercial contract bagged by Antrix, the Indonesian Lapan-2 satellite will be launched as a piggy back payload on-board a PSLV flight slated for 2015. The primary payload of this PSLV mission will be Astrosat, India’s first multi wavelength space based observatory.

As it is, PSLV was originally developed to launch one tonne class Indian earth observation satellites in IRS series into a sun-synchronous polar orbit. But over a period of time, a number of variants of PSLV came to be developed for taking care of a variety of orbital missions. The enhancement of the launch capability of PSLV has been achieved through an increase in fuel in the stage motors and the strap-ons employing composite material for the satellite mounting structure and changing the sequence of strap-on motors. PSLV, which for long was the only operational space vehicle at the command of ISRO, created a sort of history by successfully launching India’s first ever probe to Mars, Mangalyaan in November last. It was an augmented version of PSLV which did the job of orbiting Mangalyaan. 

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Radhakrishna Rao

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