7:49 am - Tuesday October 24, 2017

View: Indian diplomacy rises above the stratosphere

667 Viewed Pallavi Kumar Comments Off on View: Indian diplomacy rises above the stratosphere

With imaginative use of India’s low-cost space capability, Prime Minister Narendra Mod has improved India’s none-too-smooth relations in the South Asian neighbourhood, with the Indian Space Research Organisation delivering on the prime minister’s promise of a South Asia Satellite (SAS), which would enable better communications within and among the nations of South Asia other than Pakistan, which chose to opt out of the Indian space gift to its neighbours.

Of course, all the South Asian leaders who cheered the launch understand perfectly well that it is not just goodwill and neighbourliness that motivate India to offer up the fruits of its space technology for the collective benefit of the region. There is also the desire to keep China out of this particular game. China has launched satellites for Sri Lanka, besides, of course, for Pakistan, and would happily build and launch satellites for all nations over which it wants to exercise influence.

India would build, in South Asian neighbours, the ground stations required to take full advantage of the data bounced off the satellite. That would be a good way of transferring some of the know-how India has painstakingly built up ever since India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru set up the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) in 1962, and charged his friend and associate Vikram Sarabhai with the task of heading it and giving it an organisational form. After launching .

There is no gainsaying the soft power India derives from ISRO’s feats: low-cost launches of small and medium satellites, the launch of the Chandrayaan to orbit the moon, the Mars Orbiter, the development of a cryogenic engine and the simultaneous launch of a record number of 104 satellites. By sharing some of the ground tracking tech and training personnel from the neighbouring nations who want that service, India would enhance its reputation not only for technological capability but also for meaningful multilateral cooperation.

But India and ISRO cannot afford to rest on their laurels. Private companies in the US — backed by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos — are perfecting reusable rockets, which would lower the cost of satellite launches.

The explosive growth in data communications that would arise from machine-to-machine communications (the so-called Internet of Things) would call for Ka band satellite transponders to augment the data carrying capacity of terrestrial networks. Satellites will become far heavier than SAS’ 2.23 tonnes.

India’s launch vehicle for heavy satellites, the GSLV series, call for further improvement. The government must fund ISRO and university departments that do research in the varied disciplines that have to be harnessed to conquer space, and liberally.

During the Cold War, New Delhi had grown adept at playing the Soviet Union off against the Americans to wring out concessions from both powers, each of whom wanted to prevent India growing too dependent on its chief rival. New Delhi should now gear itself up to see friendly neighbours play the same game, with New Delhi and Beijing cast in the roles in which Moscow and Washington DC had showered munificence over the Third World, in the glory days of Non-Alignment. There could be many gains to be had from the communication satellite’s transponders being made available to the neighbourhood.

The Ku Band is what is used for DTH services, and is available on the South Asia Satellite (SAS). If South Asian nations have spectrum to spare after keeping open channels for disaster warning, intelligence sharing and other communications, Indian television programming could acquire a larger footprint with SAS’ launch. If the SAS makes a tour of the near abroad, can the bahu be far behind? Not to speak of Baahubali!

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