India’s next space ventures should be strategically thought through
Lt Cdr Bharat Singh (retd)
Until now the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) under the department of space has undertaken 105 Spacecraft Mission, 75 launch missions including a scramjet technical demonstration, launched 10 student satellites, two re-entry missions and 297 foreign satellites of 33 countries.
The ISRO’s INSAT (Indian National Satellite system) is the largest constellation of communication satellite in Asia-Pacific with 15 operation satellite namely INSAT-3A, 3C, 4A, 4B, 4CR and GSAT-6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 18. The INSAT constellation provides more than 200 ‘C’ Band and ‘Ku’ Band transponders for services pertaining to disaster warning, search and rescue, weather forecasting, societal applications, news gathering, tele-communication and television, broadcasting.
Earth Observation Satellites: Earth’s Remote Sensing Satellites observe and record various parameters of earth, they are somewhat like a spy satellite but used for non-military purposes. These satellites have diversified spatial, spectral and temporal resolution and provide data to meet different user requirements for both global and domestic requirements for the purpose of agriculture, water resources, urban planning, rural development, mineral prospecting, environment, forestry, ocean resources and disaster management.
India also has 13 operational remote sensing satellites which is one of the largest constellation in its class and involve satellites RESOURCESAT-1, 2, 2A CARTOSAT-1, 2, 2A, 2B, RISAT-1 and 2, OCEANSAT-2, Megha-Tropiques, SARAL and SCATSAT-1 and 4. In Geostationary orbit we have INSAT-3D, Kalpana & INSAT3A, and INSAT-3DR.
Experimental Satellites: ISRO also has many experimental satellites that it launched to undertake research in the field of remote sensing, atmospheric studies, payload development, orbit controls, recovery technology such as CARTOSAT series including INS-1C, INS-1B, INS-1A, a student satellite — YOUTHSAT, APPLE — an experimental communication satellite, Rohini Satellite and Aryabhata.
Satellite Based Navigation System: ISRO is working jointly with Airport Authority of India to develop the Global Positioning System (GPS)-aided Geo Augmented Navigation (GAGAN) system. GAGAN will provide accurate and timely satellite-based navigation system for air traffic management for civil aviation application through GSAT-8 and GSAT-10 satellites. GAGAN will also be interoperable with other international Satellite-based Augmentation System (SBAS) and will provide safe and seamless navigation across regional boundaries.
The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System: NavIC i.e., Navigation through Indian Constellation is an independent indigenous satellite-based regional positioning system meant for the defence services and for critical national applications. NavIC is meant to provide two types of services — Standard Positioning Services and Restricted Services. ISRO has built total of nine satellites in IRNSS series of which eight are in orbit. Three of these satellites are in Geo-synchronous orbit at 29-degree inclination to equatorial plane. However, the NavIC has been facing considerable problem from failure of on-board Rudibium atomic clocks imported from Europe. Accurate calculation of position becomes difficult when time signal is erratic or missing. The satellites operate in L5 and S Band. However, the same band is also used in communication devices like Bluetooth, LTE and Wireless Fidelity (wifi) and the experts are apprehensive that the NavIC may interfere with them. This is likely to affect NavIC receiver in proximity. User in India and 1,500 km from its borders can benefit from NavIC.
NavIC will help India enter a group of select countries having their own navigation system, a bit akin to United States’ GPS, which has a 24-satellite constellation. The Russian system is called GLONASS, the European Union’s Galileo and the Chinese are developing their BeiDou navigation satellite system. The system has cost ISRO Rs 1,400 crore and will aid in terrestrial, aerial, and marine navigation, fleet management, vehicle tracking, providing geodetic data, mapping, visual and voice navigation for drivers. The NavIC is superior to GPS as it has dual band over single band of GPS and will prevent interference, frequency delay and disturbances giving higher accuracy. ISRO is in talks with two major chipmakers for supply of NavIC chips for Indian smartphones; with US-based chipmaker Qualcomm and also with Singapore based Broadcom. ISRO’s commercial arm has already acquired Multi Chip Module (MCM) from Taiwan based firm SkyTraQ. The MCM is based on 55nm technology to build NavIC messaging and Vehicle tracker units. The IAF is already in discussion with ISRO for fitting of NavIC navigation system in its aircraft.
AstroSat: This is ISRO’s first satellite dedicated to deep survey and study of the Universe and celestial bodies. It is capable of studying various celestial emissions in X-ray, optical and UV spectral bands simultaneously; a capability which even NASA’s Hubble telescope doesn’t have. It enables the simultaneous multi-wavelength observations of various astronomical objects with a single satellite. Launched on 28 September 2015, the minimum useful life of the AstroSat mission is expected to be for five years.
Mangalyaan: India created ripples in the world’s space agencies with the success of its Mars Orbiter Mission, named ‘Mangalyaan’, in its very first attempt. The Mangalyaan, launched on 5 September 2013, was India’s first inter-planetary mission. The success of the mission made India only the fourth country after the US, Russia and European Space Agency to have achieved this feat; beating even China and many other first world nations. The Mars probe was launched using India’s workhorse PSLV. The MOM carried five scientific instruments. It is the least expensive Mars mission till date costing about Rs 450 crore. The primary objective of the mission was to develop the technologies required for designing, planning, management and operations of an interplanetary mission.
Chandrayan: India had successfully launched its first lunar mission ‘Chandrayan-1’ on 22 October 2008 with 11 scientific instruments of the US, UK, Germany, Sweden and Bulgaria. The spacecraft orbited 100 km from the surface of the moon and carried out chemical, mineralogical and photo geologic mapping of the Moon. Chandrayan-1 was the first one to discover presence of water in Moon’s crater.
‘Chandrayan-2’, carrying 13 payloads, was launched on 22 July 2019 after quickly overcoming an initial glitch. The lunar mission to Moon’s South Polar Region was designed to improve the understanding for future space expeditions. The mission’s objectives were to trace the history of moon and study water molecules in the landing region. The mission was also a test bed for technologies required for deep-space mission. The mission included a lander ‘Vikram’, with three payloads, designed to soft land on the moon surface; a rover ‘Pragyan’ carrying two payloads, for exploration and experimentation, and an orbiter with eight payloads, to relay information to Earth station.
The ISRO used an in-house developed GSLV Mark-III launcher for the mission. The lunar South Pole is especially interesting because the lunar surface area here remains in shadow and is much larger than that at the North Pole. There is a possibility of the presence of exotic elements and water ice in and around the permanently shadowed areas. The availability of water can be used as source of hydrogen for rocket fuel in deep space missions. In addition, the South Polar Region has craters that are cold traps and would contain a fossil record of the early Solar System. However, as per latest inputs, the Vikram lander went incommunicado about 335 metres above ground during the initiation of soft-landing process on 7 September 2019. The subsequent pictures taken by the Chandrayan-2 orbiter, which remains fully functional, has shown the Vikram lander lying in tilted position on the lunar surface.
Gaganyaan: The India’s crewed space mission Gaganyaan is scheduled to be launched in 2022, for which selection of initial batch of 25 test pilots have been done by the IAF and they are likely to be trained in Russia. The human spaceflight programme is being designed to carry three crew. The crewed mission will be launched using GSLV Mk-III and will orbit at a distance of around 400km altitude.
Military Space Programmes
Rukmani Satellite Communication System: The Indian Navy became the first defence service in the country to have its own dedicated communication satellite system with the launch of Rukmani Satellite in 2013. This changed the dynamics of the way naval ships, aircraft and shore units communicated at extended ranges. The satellite communication brought with it encrypted real time communication, versatility in sharing surveillance data, formulating the tactical picture, and facilitated effective command and control of the whole operational theatre. Rukmani, a GSAT-7 or INSAT 4F, is a multiband military communication satellite of 2650 Kg weight, which cost merely Rs 180 crores with foreign launch cost put at approx. Rs 480 crores. The satellite provided effective communication and surveillance capability in the eastern and the western flanks of the Indian Ocean Region with close to 2000 nautical miles foot print. This took away Indian Navy’s reliance on V/UHF/HF based communication system which were vulnerable to jamming, hacking, noise and range limitation. The earlier use of Commercial INMARSAT satellite-based communication terminals, used mostly by merchant ships, on-board navy ships was deemed expensive and insecure. Their wartime use could have compromised communications and position of Naval units. The INMARSAT communication system is presently under British Satellite Telecommunication Ltd, which offers global mobile satellite communication service.
GSAT-6: Weighing 2117 kg, the GSAT-6 is the second military satellite meant for the armed forces. This would allow soldiers to use satellite terminals in place of portable V/UHF transmitters and receivers while on the move in varied terrains ranging from, sea, seashore, dessert, jungles, riverine, and snow-clad mountains. The satellite would provide real time communication and tactical picture to command and control centre. GSAT-6 is the 25th geo stationary communication satellite built by ISRO and fifth in GSAT series. It provides communication in S-band with five spot beams, through a large antenna of 6-meter width, covering whole of India for user links, and in C-band with one beam.
GSAT-7A: It is the 35th communication satellite built by ISRO, which was successfully launched on 19 December 2018. The satellite is meant to provide communication capability to the users (IAF) in the Ku band. It uses a chemical propulsion system and has an operational mission life of a minimum of eight years. The satellite was designed to enable the IAF to link ground radar stations, drones, air bases and AWACS aircraft and boost network-centric warfare capabilities and common intelligence. Along with GSAT-7 and GSAT-6, this new satellite, dubbed the ‘Indian Angry Bird’, forms the band of communications satellite for use of Indian military.
NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar: As a part of cooperation with the US space agency NASA, ISRO will be launching a SAR satellite using GSLV-Mk II in 2021. India began its unmanned RISAT-2 spacecraft-based radar imaging programme with the 20 April 2009 launch of satellite resembling the all-weather Israeli radar imaging surveillance programme satellite TecSAR. This was meant to be utilised to address India’s border security issues.
RISAT Satellite: In May 2019, India had launched RISAT-2B, an Earth observation spy satellite to replace its predecessor RISAR-2 that was being used to undertake surveillance of terrorist activities and terror camps across the border in Pakistan. The RISAT-2B is called all weather spy satellite and can be used to take high resolution images of the earth during day and night, and also under cloudy conditions. The satellite is equipped with X-Band synthetic aperture radar that can take pictures in any condition. The spy satellite, with sensors sourced from Israel Aerospace Industries, has a life span of five years. The ISRO is scheduled to launch four more such satellites. The images from these satellites were extremely useful during 2016 surgical strike and February 2019 Balakot air strike.
CARTOSAT Satellites: The CARTOSAT 3 satellite to be launched by ISRO is the latest in series of CARTOSAT satellites with advance capabilities and resolution up to 20cm. The resolution of CARTOSAT-3 is refined to be able to take very clear picture of a gun or enemy bunker. The present CARTOSAT 2, 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D, 2E, and 2F have resolution up to 0.5 metres. It carries state-of-the-art panchromatic (PAN) cameras that take black and white stereoscopic pictures of the earth in the visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum and are used for both military and civilian application.
Gisat Series Satellites: With the planned launch of Gisat 1 and 2 satellites, the Indian Army can scan or map an area every other day. Till now, old imaging satellites could map a particular area only once in 22 days. The satellite will provide near real-time images of vast landscapes under cloud – free conditions. Gisat will carry geo-imager with multi-spectral (visible, near infra-red and thermal), multi resolution (50 m to 1.5 Km) imaging instruments that will enhance the country’s land mapping capabilities. Gisat has both military and civilian use.
EMISAT: ISRO has also successfully placed an Electronic Intelligence Satellite in a 749 km orbit around the earth in April 2019. It is a joint project between ISRO and DRDO. It is an Indian reconnaissance satellite which will provide space based electronic intelligence or ELINT. It is capable of providing location of enemy radars by detecting, locating and identifying the characteristic electromagnetic emissions of various radar signals. This has considerably improved the situational awareness of the Indian armed forces.
HySIS and Microsat-R: Hyperspectral Imaging Satellite (HySIS) is an earth observation satellite launched on 29 November 2018. This satellite can see in 55 spectral or colour bands from 630 km above the ground. The optical imaging detector array chip in the HySIS satellite has been has been designed by ISRO’s Ahmedabad-based Space Applications Centre and manufactured by its electronic arm, the Semi-Conductor Laboratory, Chandigarh. The satellite will be used for a range of applications apart from military surveillance, like agriculture, forestry and assessment of coastal zones, inland waters, soil and other geological environments. The hyperspectral technology is still an evolving science and is a much sought after technology globally.
The Microsat-R is a military imaging satellite capable of imaging at night. Launched on 24 January 2019, it possibly acted as a target for anti-satellite missile test during ‘Mission Shakti’ in 2019.
Mission Shakti: On 27 March 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced successful test of anti-satellite missile with a direct hit on our own target satellite (Microsat-R, in low earth orbit) as part of ‘Mission Shakti’. The success of the mission required very high degree of precision guidance technology and missile manoeuvrability capabilities. DRDO used its Ballistic Missile Defence interceptor and associated technology, which is part of the ongoing ballistic missile defence programme, to achieve the objectives set out in the mission. The technology also demonstrated India’s capability to interdict Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles in their trajectories in outer space. The capability is a game changer and, with this test, India entered the select group of countries who can be called as space powers. With success of ‘Mission Shakti’, India also became the fourth country with ASAT capabilities after the US, Russia and China.
Integrated Space Cell: The Integrated Space Cell, comprising the three services, Department of Space and the ISRO, was formed owing to growing threat to India’s space-based assets and threat to ground-based asset from space. It is jointly operated by the three services. The idea of Integrated Space cell had originated in 2010 owing to growing offensive and counter offensive space-based weapon in India’s neighbourhood. The formation of Integrated Space Cell became a necessity after China used a medium-range ballistic missile to shoot down one of its own aging Feng Yun 1C polar orbit weather satellite that it had launched into orbit in 1999.
IndSpaceEx: The country’s armed forces, along with DRDO, held the first joint military space exercise on 25 and 26 July 2019. The DRDO was the analysing and assessing agency to check defence preparedness from space-based threats. The exercise was meant to realise key short falls and challenges if any armed conflict spreads to outer space. The idea was to assess India’s military capability in the modern warfare scenario of space-based offensive and counter offensive options available including anti-satellite missiles and directed energy weapons. The exercise came just after Mission Shakti to formulate an integrated response to space-based threats. The lessons derived from the exercise will be used to formulate joint space war doctrine for outer space warfare.
International Trends in Space
The US is known to spend close to about USD 48 billion per year on its space programmes. The US Armed Forces maintain international networks of satellites, with ground stations located in various continents, to provide global positioning system, carry out reconnaissance and for communication networking of armed forces operating around the globe. The Soviets had conceptualised Almaz space station as early as in Sixties to search sea-based targets. The ‘Thor’ and ‘Rod from God’ were some of the US projects in early 1950-1960 to weaponise space and use kinetic energy munitions from space. Directed Energy Weapons and Tactical High Energy Lasers (THEL project) by US and Israel were also tested between 1996 and 2005 to destroy airborne and space borne targets. The Manned Orbiting Laboratory launched by US, between 1963 and 1969, was used for reconnaissance. In 1985, for the first time, a US F-15A fighter aircraft fired a successful anti- Satellite missile. The NASA also has an asteroid mission on the books. The need for capabilities to manoeuvre, divert or decimate an inbound asteroid on collision course with earth cannot be denied. The USAFSPC’s Space and Missile Center (SMC) is now planning on a more capable, resilient and defensible next generation ‘Overhead Persistent Infrared’ (OPIR) programme, employing GEO satellites, as the next evolution of SBIRS program to rapidly acquire and deliver global missile threat warning to its Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) war fighter systems.
The US Space Agency launched Hubble telescope in a low earth orbit (LEO) in 1990 with assistance of European Space Agency, and it remains in operation till date. Its successor James Web Space Telescope will probably be launched in 2021. Apart from Hubble, NASA operates Chandra X- ray and Spitzer infrared space telescope. NASA has many interplanetary missions to its credit including to the Sun and to various asteroids. Its Mars Rover continues to beam back images from Mars and Juno from Jupiter. It has sent mission to Pluto and beyond solar system. In 2003, the ‘Mars Odyssey’ discovered vast amount of water near the polar region of the Mars.
Russia has a separate Space Force responsible for early warning of missile threats, ballistic missile defence, and the fabrication, deployment, maintenance and control of in-orbit space vehicles like the new reconnaissance satellites. The Space Forces operate the GLONASS global positioning system. The Russian and some Chinese space surveillance networks are capable of searching, tracking and characterising satellites in all orbits. This provides space operations and counter space offensive capabilities. Russia was the first country to have its own space station MIR even before ISS came into existence. Presently, astronauts to ISS are launched by Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. Russia, along with the European Space Agency, is looking at a major mission to Mars. It is also looking at many robotic missions to moon. The Venera 7 and Mars 3 were the Russian missions undertaken to soft land on Venus and Mars respectively.
China, in January 2007, had successfully carried out an Anti-Satellite Missile Test by destroying its own satellite at an orbital height of 800 km. The debris created by China’s missile test led to the destruction of a Russian Satellite later. China has considerable space-based intelligence, surveillance, navigation, meteorological and communications satellite networks. It is the second highest space budget amounting to USD 11 Billion. Chinese President Xi Jinping has asked the Chinese Air Force to speed up integration of air and space capabilities. After the US and Russia, China has become the third country to send a Rover to moon and has had a series of successes in crewed space flights. China is also planning to build its third space station module. The Chinese Space Station intends to provide deep space exploration capabilities to Moon and Mars, and will also provide a test bed for key technologies. As per the latest inputs, the Chinese lunar rover Yutu-2 has discovered a gel like substance, with mysterious lustre, on the far side of the moon on 2 September 2019.
The International Space Station is a low earth orbit, habitable artificial satellite. The ISS programme has been jointly developed by five space agencies, viz. NASA, Roscomos, JAXA (Japan), CSA (Canada) and ESA (European Space Agency). The ISS serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory. The ownership and use of the space station have been established by inter-governmental treaties and agreements. It has two segments; one is Russian another American. The American segment is used by many others.
Space-X, the Elon Musk founded US Company, has revolutionised space technology. Its ultimate aim is to colonise other planet and enable people to live in other planets. The company is manufacturing advance rockets and space crafts. It is the only private company to return space craft from low earth orbit. Its Dragon spacecraft is being used to provide supplies to ISS and launching US Military satellites. It also has in its kitty the most powerful rocket ‘Falcon’. It is presently focusing on a fully reusable launch vehicle, most powerful ever built, to settle human colonies in Mars.
The Japanese JAXA Hayabusa 2 space craft, launched in 2014 with ion engine technology, became the first spacecraft to land a rover on the surface of an asteroid in Jun 2018. The mission is for 18 months, the probe was planned to deploy a small lander and three rovers to poke, prod and impact the asteroid. It will then blast an artificial crater to analyse material below the asteroid’s surface. After that, the probe will head back to Earth, arriving near the end of 2020 with samples in tow.
In May 2019 NASA, along with ESA, undertook an exercise to study the possibility of an asteroid impact on earth; a fictional scenario with realistic possibilities. The exercise was meant to decide upon a counter strategy.
Laws of Outer Space
A law becomes meaningful only when it is enforceable. Space law, like other international laws, is affected by this principle. International laws do not have enforcement mechanism as member states have sovereignty over their territory and people, and their adherence to any international law is mostly voluntary, or under pressure of potential economic sanctions.
International laws are also affected by the military and economic might of the member states who dictate their terms on weaker states. Hence, equality or fairness in implementation of International Laws is highly questionable. In spite of absence of effective mechanism to implement international laws, they continue to be framed and ratified. The known accepted sources of international laws continue to be mutual treaties between states, customary international laws, United Nation charter and laws passed by UN bodies, judgements by International courts, and inter-governmental treaties.
The international space law is based on five core treaties; the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1968 Rescue Agreement, 1972 Liability Convention, the 1974 Registration Convention, the 1979 Moon Agreement and the 2010 IYU Constitution and Convention Article-1 of Outer Space Treaty permits freedom to explore, use and conduct scientific investigation in outer space. Article-IV of Outer Space Treaty prohibits weaponisation of space and prohibits signatories from putting weapons of mass destruction in outer orbit of Earth. The article stipulates that a state shall remain responsible for all its national and space activities, including those taken by non-state actors. It is thus clear that states are free to carry out scientific exploration and investigation of the outer space and are responsible for activities of their citizen. Therefore, even Elon Musk can undertake space-based activities only with the sanction of the US government.
It must be understood that though a nation state has sovereign rights on land and airspace above its territory, there is no law and method available to delimit airspace from outer space. The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) has not been able to resolve the issue of delimitation since last 50 years, and with growing advancement in technology, the range of sovereign airspace has increased. The right to peaceful transit of satellite in outer space over territory of other states has now become a customary international law, and remains an uncodified but accepted practice. The ‘Aerodynamic Lift Theory’ has failed to impress scientist who cannot figure out exactly at which point air disappears and space starts. ‘Under Bogota Declaration View 1977’ developing nations like Brazil, Kenya, and Chile etc. located near the equator have declared their position claiming sovereignty rights over space, up to where their geostationary satellite would need to orbit i.e. 30,000 miles away from Earth’s surface. India must take a clue from the same to declare its own sovereign rights in the space to deny space to any geostationary enemy spy, reconnaissance, ELINT, and remote sensing satellite, whose presence is detrimental to our national interest. Another primary reason is limited space available, as three geostationary satellite which are launched at equatorial plane are adequate to cover whole earth, and thus will soon run out of prominent space due to increasing space traffic from developed nation.
The Moon Agreement declares Moon as common heritage of mankind. Thus, no nation can declare rights of sovereignty on reaching and establishing its facilities on lunar surface first. Moon Agreement allows the right to explore and use of Moon without discrimination. However, as brought out earlier, a law is only good as long as it can be enforced. Any nation state, individual, or a corporation, which sets up its facilities first on Moon, a planet or any other celestial body first, can gain a first mover advantage and physically deny the achievement of the same to late movers.
This also applies to Elon Musk’s plan of establishing a human colony on Mars where water resource has been discovered in polar region, and which would enable terraforming. In case of violation of any international Law and treaty by individuals reaching other planets there is no way the laws can be enforced against their wish, as it is one-way ticket. Also, as per all ancient land laws including Indian, Roman, German, Mohammadan and English laws, first possession and use of land brings ownership rights. This leads to formation of territorial claims and state boundaries. The same have been endorsed by eminent jurist like Savigny, Salmond, Ihering, Pollock and Holmes. Therefore, use of land by any inter-planetary or Inter-lunar mission will possibly create issues of land ownership and sovereignty rights in future.
Since treaties and agreement are important source of international law, inter- governmental agreements (IGA) cover the functioning of crew member on-board the International Space Station observatory. The IGA covers issues ranging from Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), crime by a crew member, civil and criminal jurisdiction and operational responsibilities. On 28 August 2019 Anne McClain, became the first astronaut on-board ISS to have committed crime of accessing bank account of her spouse, from whom she was obtaining divorce, without his permission. India, must examine such legal arrangements and treatise, so as to get into similar programmes with other member states for deep space crewed exploration mission. It would also be required to frame laws for outer space and evolve an enforcement mechanism.
Following the 1986 ‘UN Principles Relating to Remote Sensing’, India allows non-discriminatory dissemination of remote sensing data to all member states. India has a Remote Sensing Data Policy 2001, under which a private Indian player is prohibited from launching Remote Sensing Satellite. The policy also prohibits domestic players from publishing sensitive information pertaining to national security obtained through images from Indian Remote Sensing Satellites form National Remote sensing Agency, Hyderabad. However, there is still no restriction in publication of similar images obtained from foreign remote sensing satellites by Indian or foreign entities. This policy requires a relook as it fails to adequately cover our national interest. Additionally, it will be in India’s interest to encourage more private players to undertake development of effective, efficient and cheap remote sensing and other satellites and spacecraft for which policy guidelines can be laid to out to promote private ventures in space as well as to ensure accountability and national security.
Under the provisions of 1967 ‘Outer Space Treaty’ as well as 1973 ‘Liability Convention’, any nation is liable to pay damages to other member states if its space activities cause damage to property of other member state or its citizen. However, any international law can only be implemented in India, through Indian courts, if the corresponding domestic law to support the same has been enacted by the parliament according to constitutional provisions. Any damage to any satellite caused by debris of Anti- satellite Missile test can make India liable for damages. Such test can be seen as opportunities by other states to seek reparations by claiming damage to their ageing satellite.
Launch of the Soviet Union’s ‘Sputnik-1’ on 4 October 1957, the first human-made object to orbit Earth, is often taken as the first major step towards humanity’s exploration and exploitation of space. Now, after a late start and over six decades later, India has much ground to cover.
Outer space offers vast opportunities and risks. The first movers will always enjoy an advantage and reap commercial dividends with their lead in related technology. They may also develop the ability to deny others the same capability. With improvement in technology, deep space explorations are becoming a reality. The momentum of space activity has gained considerable pace with the entry of private commercial firms.
As a self-respecting nation it cannot choose to ignore risks of being left out in the race for outer-space. Additionally, India must build its own capabilities to monitor threat from Near Earth Orbit asteroids striking the Earth on its territory, wherein a small asteroid hit could cause substantial local damage without affecting other parts of the world. The Japanese Space agency (JAXA) has shown its ability to mine and manoeuvre an asteroid. India must also extend its anti- satellite missile and other capabilities to monitor and counter, or manoeuvre and divert such threats as well.
In spite of being a late and slow starter, India has some space feathers in its cap. India must now choose its moves carefully, and exploit its space progress commercially to fund future space projects. India is blessed with a large pool of technically qualified human resource which is educated, multi-lingual, and has a scientific temperament. India must capitalise on its human resource by encouraging participation of private and public firms for developing indigenous technology for development and fabrication of sophisticated satellites, launch vehicles and space crafts to emerge as one of the leading space faring nations in the world. It must encourage scientific temperament and awareness about utility of space applications among academicians, scholars and media houses through regular interactive and participative programmes.
The six nuclear powered nations, who became permanent members of the UN Security Council, had exploited their power and position to dictate biased policies like CTBT and NPT to deny other states the same technological ability. Therefore, India should now strive become a maker of space policies. This can only be achieved by staying technologically and materially ahead in the game, and by gaining strategic dominance in space. While India’s space program must aim to be financially self-sustainable through selective commercialisation, yet India’s space research and mission ventures should never suffer for want of funds.
Future human excursions into outer space, and inter-planetary/ exo-solar system colonisation is both imperative and inevitable on account of depleting resources on earth, rising population, pollution, possibility of threat and consequence of nuclear war and an asteroid strike. India will have to play a leading and dominant role in this exercise and firmly establish itself as a leading player in the game. Efforts made by us today will be a proud legacy for tomorrow. We owe this to our future generations.
(The writer is a former naval officer and a specialist in international, air and space law)