India-U.S. space cooperation, from handshake to hug

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Source– The post is based on the article “India-U.S. space cooperation, from handshake to hug” published in The Hindu on 13th February 2023.

Syllabus: GS3- Awareness in the field of space

Relevance– International cooperation in space for India

News– Recently, India and the United States have agreed to advance space collaboration in several areas  under the ‘initiative on critical and emerging technology’ umbrella.

What shows convergence of interests for space collaboration between the US and India?

In November 2022, the USA started its Artemis programme by launching the Orion spacecraft towards the moon. India is set to embark on its first human spaceflight mission in 2024.

The two countries have also taken significant efforts in advancing the private space sector.

What are structural factors limiting US and India collaboration in space?

Mismatch in interests– The U.S. has committed to returning to the moon. They plan to stay there for the long term. Their ambitions are firmly set on the moon.

India’s scientific community focuses on building the nation’s capability in and under earth orbits. India’s top priority is to substantially increase its satellite and launch capabilities in earth orbits and catch up with other nations such as China.

Asymmetry in capabilities– The U.S. has the highest number of registered satellites in space. It also has a range of launch vehicles serving both commercial and national security needs. SpaceX managed to achieve a record 61 launches in 2022.

India has just over 60 satellites in orbit. It cannot undertake double digit launches annually. The Indian government also opened the space industry to the private sector only in 2020.

Disagreements on space governance– Even though countries have a mindset to collaborate, the structural factors overpower diplomatic incentives to pursue long term Cooperation.

What is the way forward for India and the US to collaborate in the space sector?

There is a need for long term cooperation to sustain the engagement between academics, the private sector and state­led entities in the two countries.

Sustained engagement could also take the form of collaborating on highly specialised projects such as the NASA­-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar Mission.

India and the U.S. must find novel solutions to cooperate in the new space age to achieve a meaningful partnership.

One form of cooperation is a partnership between state and private entities. India could send its astronauts to train at American private companies. This could help India reduce its dependence on Russia.

Another novel arrangement could be a consortium led by the government owned New Space India Limited which involves private companies in the U.S.

This setup could accelerate India’s human spaceflight programme and give the U.S. an opportunity to accommodate Indian interests in earth orbits.

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