9 Months agoAs India and Russia mark 70 years of diplomatic ties, India is Guest Country at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) from June 1-3, 2017. In the run-up to SPIEF, we take a closer look at collaborations in space exploration.
Russia has played an important role in India’s space journey, and space remains one of the key pillars of the strategic partnership between the two countries. Over the years India’s indigenous space programme has benefited from Russian technical and scientific assistance. The first man to travel to space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin predicted a future collaboration between the two nations, back in 1961, when he spent 8 days in India.
“I think that sometime Soviet and Indian cosmonauts will research unexplored expanses of space together,” Gagarin said at a meeting in Delhi.1
Two decades later, Rakesh Sharma made the nation proud, becoming the first Indian to travel to outer space, on board the Soyuz T-11 spacecraft with a Russian commander and a Russian flight engineer.2
India has come a long way since then. India’s successful Mars Orbiter Mission helped establish its presence on the world stage as a space power. It is the only country in Asia to have successfully launched a Mars mission and the only one in the world to have done so in its maiden attempt3. India has strived towards developing advanced space technologies that will help improve the lives of Indians. It is one of the few countries in the world to have its very own satellite navigation system. When India sent the Chandrayaan spacecraft to the moon back in 2008, it became the fourth country in the world to hoist its flag on the moon4. In 2017, India created history by launching a record 104 satellites on a single mission5. Visibly, India’s accomplishments in the sector have been astounding.
FORTY-TWO YEARS AND COUNTING
India and Russia have a four-decade strong relationship in the field of space. The former Soviet Union launched India’s first two satellites, Aryabhata and Bhaskar, into orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome.6 Aryabhata was launched on the Soviet launch vehicle Soyuz.7
Even today, both countries cooperate on lunar and Mars exploration missions.8 India will be using Russian isotope products in its lunar mission Chandrayaan-2, which will be launched in 2018.
The long list of agreements is indicative of the shared commitment to jointly develop space programmes for mutual advantage.
The second of India’s Mini Satellite (IMS) series, YOUTHSAT, is a joint Indo-Russian mission, in which University students have participated. The mission aims to understand how solar activity variation affects Earth’s upper atmosphere. The satellite has three payloads - two Indian and one Russian.9
When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited India in December 2004, the two countries signed two space-related bilateral agreements, namely the ‘Inter-governmental Umbrella Agreement on Cooperation in Outer space for Peaceful Purposes’ and the ‘Inter Space Agency Agreement on Cooperation in the Russian Satellite Navigation System GLONASS’.10
In 2005, another agreement to take forward the implementation of the 2004 agreement envisaging joint development of user equipment for exploitation of the signals for commercial purposes and launching of GLONASS satellite using GSLV launch vehicle of India was signed. Agreement on cooperation in the field of solar physics and solar terrestrial relationships within the framework of Coronas-Photon project was also signed in 2005 to enable integration of the Indian RT-2 payload with the Coronas-Photon spacecraft.11
2007 witnessed the signing of an agreement between ISRO and Russia’s space agency Roscosmos to jointly develop India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission12
In 2015, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS) signed a new MoU on expanding cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. This has opened-up opportunities for collaboration in the following areas of mutual interest:
- Satellite navigation
- Launch vehicle development
- Critical technologies for human spaceflight programme
- Remote sensing of Earth
- Space science and planetary exploration
- Use of ground space infrastructure
- Joint projects that call for sharing of expertise and resources
- Development of space systems and components
- Exchange of scientists
- Training and scientific and technical meetings13
THE BRICS SUMMIT
When the Russian President and Indian Prime Minister met at the BRICS Summit 2016 in Goa, they “reaffirmed their commitment to pursue the immense potential to cooperate in outer space with a view to advance socially useful applications and scientific knowledge.”14
They emphasised that the space agencies of both nations would engage more actively on space technology applications, launch vehicle, satellite navigation, space science and planetary exploration.15
They also confirmed their commitment to “elaborate within the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the UN Committee on Space a consolidated approach to the preparation of the set of guidelines for the long-term sustainability of outer space activities and regulatory provisions on safety of space operations, as the most important component of the said document.”16
The two leaders also welcomed the signing of a MoU to set up and utilise ground measurement gathering stations in each other’s territories to enhance the navigation satellite systems GLONASS and NavIC respectively.