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 Space Programme
Adding to India's Brand Image
 
 
By Wg Cdr Ajey LelePublished : July 2007
 
 
 
   
International prestige in science and technology is critical. This is Soft Power.
 

It is the capacity to get others to do what we want without coercing them because they admire our achievements and want to emulate us.

India's Space Programme needs to be viewed as the most thus. It is an important factor that has contributed immensely towards giving India its Soft Power status. However, this success in the space arena is a long tail of domestic and international struggle. Today, when the aerospace command is going to be a reality in India's defence architecture, it is important to trace the journey of India's space programme.

The Indian Space Programme has a long history.

Subsequent to the launch of first artificial satellite Sputnik 1 in 1957, by the erstwhile Soviet Union, the technological vision of the then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru gave birth to this programme which now has accomplished many laurels for its professionalism. Scientists like Dr Vikram Sarabhai and MGK Menon were instrumental in making Nehru's dream turn into a reality.

Initially, space research was started as a part of India's atomic energy programme. This programme started in the year 1962 as the Indian Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) under the leadership of Vikram Sarabhai.

The most notable aspect of India's space programme is that it is not born out of any military programme, like ballistic missiles, but out of a dream of actually being able to launch satellites.

Even though the first team of Indian space scientists received their training in the United States and India did take help form the US and France to launch first few of their sounding rockets, in general though the Indian space vision revolved around the doctrine of building indigenous capability

The first significant space milestone to be developed by INCOSPAR was the Rohini Sounding Rocket (RSR) programme. It was associated with the firing of indigenously developed and fabricated sounding rockets. The first single-stage Rohini (RH-75) rocket weighing 32 Kg with an additional 7 Kg payload was successfully fired to an altitude of around 10 km. in 1967.

A two-stage Rohini rocket followed this with 100 kg payload to over 320 km altitude. These launches were conducted from Thumba, located in India's southern state of Kerala.

Understanding the need for a separate and independent agency to look at the country's growing space ambitions, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was born in 1969.

Then, a separate Department of Space was created in 1972.

With a long-term vision for launching large rockets and subsequently satellites into various orbits, Sriharikota, a site close to Chennai (Madras) was chosen in 1969 as a launch station.

Since then, this site is fully operational and now even has a facility of multiple launch pads.

In the early 1970s, apart from building expertise and infrastructure for satellite launch vehicle (SLV), ISRO also started developing satellite technology. India launched its first satellite named Aryabhata in 1975 from a Soviet booster.

After that, overcoming one launch failure in 1979, ISRO fired its first indigenous satellite in 1980, calling it Rohini 1.

Over the years now, the Indian space programme has maturated. India has its own launch vehicles capable of sending satellites into polar orbits.

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is reputed as India's most time tested workhorse today.

There were some failures during the late 1980s in mastering the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) technology. But ISRO gained valuable experience about strapon boosters and new guidance systems which has ultimately helped them towards the full production of PSLVs.

The success story of PSLV began in 1994, and in January 10, 2007 for the first time, India succeeded in putting four satellites together into orbit with this launch vehicle.

The same vehicle was also used to put Kalapna 1 weather satellite into the geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and now ISRO proposes to use the same workhorse for the proposed Chandrayan 1 mission in 2008.

For launching heavy satellite (2000kg variety), ISRO has developed Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).

Its developmental flights, which took place during 2001 and 2003, have been successful. Also, in 2004, it successfully put EDUSAT into orbit.

There was a GSLV failure though on 10 July 2006, which indicates that India is not yet fully independent is some satellite launches, particularly of the INSAT variety (Geo-stationary orbit, 36000 km above the earth) are concerned.

Nonetheless, ISRO has established two major space systems, INSAT for communication, television broadcasting and meteorological services, and Indian Remote Sensing Satellites (IRS) for resources monitoring and management.

The progress in both these programmes has been noteworthy.

During last decade particularly, satellite technology has been put in use in many areas including weather forecasting, education, disaster management and civil aviation etc.

Today, India is emerging as a major player in the arena of space technologies and has got many ambitious plans for the future.

India suffered from a basic handicap of technology transfer from other countries post- 1974 because of its nuclear ambitions. The again, during the early 1990s, India was stopped from procuring cryogenic engines from the Russia due to US pressure.

However, with US President George Bush signing the Indo-US nuclear deal now, it appears that India's technological apartheid is likely to be over and the space philosophy of the country will get a major boost with many international players being allowed to collaborate. Major international companies like Raytheon, Boeing, GE and Ariane are already offering space - and nuclear - technologies to India.

ISRO's recent Cartosat satellites launche has brought India at par with the second best in the business as far as imagery resolution is concerned.

Cartosat I, successfully launched in May 2005, is playing a crucial role in several applications and has boosted India's remote sensing services with high-resolution images. It has a resolution of 2.5 meters.

The successful launching of Cartosat II on 10 January 2007 with one meter resolution has brought India at par with the Ikonos of the US. With this satellite, the cost of obtaining imagery has come down by at least five times, and also, better resolution helps in better planning.

The imagery it provides helps in digital elevation maps for urban and rural development, land and water resources management, disaster and environmental impact assessment.

Notably, the best resolution in the world is provided by the US Quickbird satellite system that offers an unbelievably low 60-cm resolution. That has to be target of Indian scientists some day.

India's space aspects essentially do not have any military rationale.

However, space technology is inherently a dual-use technology, and any space assets would naturally perform many military tasks.

Communication, surveillance, reconnaissance etc. are the routine functions for any armed force and IRS and INSAT series satellites are capable of performing such functions. The Cartosat imagery is particularly expected to help the armed forces in a big way. Other offshoots, like the knowledge gained in rocket science for missile developments etc., are obvious.

The Indian space programme achieved a major global dimension when, at the end of 2006, the Indian scientific community made a unanimous suggestion that the time was appropriate now for India to undertake a manned space mission as well as an unmanned moon mission.

It emerges that after many years of experimentations, the scientific community has become more confident about the potential of carrying out such projects successfully. Also, this is an indication of India's confidence in itself and in its economy. After all it is an investment of Rs 10,000 crores ($ 2.5 billion) over a period of eight years for such projects.

The most remarkable aspect of India's moon-dream is that it marks a fundamental policy change in respect of its space programme.

Dr Vikram Sarabhai, who envisioned this programme four decades ago, wanted to harness the space for India's economic and social development. He had said that India did not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of moon or the planets or manned spaceflights.

But now India believes that pushing forward human presence in space has become important for planetary exploration. It is part of the Vision 2025 for ISRO.

Also, there could be one more important but less talked about factor to all this thinking and that is the Chinese challenge.

In 2003, China became the third nation in the world after the US and erstwhile USSR to put a man in a space. After this, China has moved forward and even conducted an unthinkable anti-satellite test, adding unnecessarily to the debris in space and starting a new kind of military race in shooting down satellites.

It killed one of its own satellites on 11 Jan 2007 with a kinetic kill vehicle launched on board a ballistic missile. Although no one wants it, some countries are bound to build this capability.

India understands the strategic significance of conquering the outer space and the moon. Even countries like Pakistan and Malaysia are planning to send people into space. In fact Malaysia has not ruled out the possibility of one of its astronauts going to the moon by 2020, probably on some American spacecraft.

India's proposed manned mission to moon would make it a force to reckon with and count among the select few countries in the space club. It is expected that tomorrow somebody will put the flag on the moon and would claim its ownership - the threat which Antarctica had faced once.

Moon is important because in future it could become a convenient and cheap option for carrying out repairs of satellites which may go faulty in the outer space. Facilities could be built on the surface of the moon.

Also, another important factor is the presence of Helium-3. It is predicted that Helium-3 could become a great source for energy generation and will turn out to be a much better option than nuclear energy. The gas is available in abundance only over the moon and that is why the race for conquering it.

During last few years, ISRO has emerged as a useful agency for the developing countries to launch their satellites.

It has so far provided countries like Argentina and Indonesia etc to launch their satellites. This activity is also helping India in revenue generation and it is expected that in the years to come, India may be able to manage 10% share of this fast growing market.

Recently, India's first commercial rocket was fired into space, carrying a 776-pound Italian satellite that collects data on the origins of universe. The success of this launch is likely to give a major boost to India's brand image in the launch sector.

Today, a major transition is taking place in respect of India globally.

India is being considered as a major driver of the global economy in the future.

Strategically, India is also bound to play a major role in the global geopolitics. The presence of a space infrastructure should play a major role towards establishing an Aerospace Command by the three services to ensure the country's security.

But overall, ISRO has already given India a Brand Image in space research and capabilities.

 
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