India in Moon Race with Big Asian Dogs

"If you want to run with the big dogs, you have to stop pissing with the puppies". These words are attributed to Robert Blackwill, former US Ambassador to India, in his oft-repeated lectures to the Indian government earlier this decade. The "puppies" reference here is apparently a dig at India's obsession with Pakistan.

Finally, after years of futile focus on Pakistan, India is heeding the advice of Ambassador Blackwill. The country began the countdown Monday to the launch of its first unmanned mission to the moon that will signify a major catch-up step with Japan and China in the fast-developing Asian space race, according to media reports published today.

"Everything is going perfectly as planned," the center's associate director M.Y.S. Prasad told AFP from Sriharikota, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Chennai, after the official countdown began in the early hours of Monday.

Earlier this year, India did a successful launch of a mission with 10 satellites from the Sriharikota space center to become a serious contender in the fast growing $2.5B commercial satellite launch business.

Beyond the Indian commercial ambitions, this milestone for India represents a strategic capability as an emerging economic and military power on the world stage. This is also a great comeback for ISRO about two years after a launch in 2006 had to be destroyed less than a minute after lift off when it veered from its path.

India still has a long way to go to catch up with China which, along with the United States, Russia and the European Space Agency, is already well-established in the commercial launch business. Chinese officials are already planning a manned mission to the moon in the future, after following the United States and the former Soviet Union last month by a successful space walk, although a more immediate goal is the establishment of an orbiting space lab. AFP reports that Beijing's long-term ambition is to develop a fully-fledged space station by 2020 to rival the International Space Station, a joint project involving the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and several European countries. Japan has also been boosting its space efforts and has set a goal of a manned mission to the moon by 2020. Japan's first lunar probe, Kaguya, was successfully launched in September last year, releasing two mini-satellites which will be used to study the gravity fields of the moon among other projects. The development of a space race in Asia has both commercial and security implications, with the potential for developing military applications such as intelligence gathering and space-based weapons. Earlier this year, Japan ended self-imposed prohibition on militarization of space, hoping to remove any legal barriers to building more advanced spy satellites.

The Pakistan Space Agency or Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), the equivalent of ISRO in India, is the Pakistani state-run space agency responsible for Pakistan's space program. It was formed in September 1961 by the order of President Ayub Khan on the advice of Professor Dr Abdus Salam, Nobel Laureate, who was also made its founding director. The headquarters of SUPARCO is located in Islamabad, however with the development of Sonmiani it is expected that the new headquarters will be moved in the near future. The agency also has offices in Lahore and at Karachi (an engineering installation). SUPARCO has no launch capability of its own. It has relied on Chinese and Russian space agencies to launch its satellites Badr-1 and Badr-2.

SUPARCO saw major cuts in its budget in the 1980s and 1990s. Last year, its annual budget was a modest $6m. In fact, Pakistan had no communication satellites in space until 2003. The urgency to place its first satellite in a geo-stationary orbit was keenly felt in the middle of 2003, by which time Pakistan had already lost four of its five allocated space slots. The five slots were allocated to Pakistan by ITU (International Telecommunication Union) back in 1984, but the country failed to launch any satellite till 1995. That year Pakistan again applied for and received the five slots, but once again the government failed to get a satellite into orbit, losing four of it slots in the process. According to officials, if Pakistan had failed to launch its satellite by April 19, 2003, the country would have lost its fifth and last 38-degree east slot when the availability of these space slots is getting difficult every day.

With the current economic crisis, it is unlikely that Pakistan will boost space spending to try and follow its bigger, better funded neighbor into space.


Anonymous said…
Mr. Haq,

I was surfing the web and stumbled across this post on your blog.

Robert Blackwill's statement was in reference to India's vote in the UN against nuclear ambitions of Iran. The 'puppies' reference had nothing to do with Pakistan.
Please refer this link,

You're misplaced when you say India has catch up to do with China in commercial satellite launch market. No, it does not.

Finally, Pakistan is not in any league with India. It's Pakistan which is obssessed with India and your writings reinforce that view. With due respect, do some research before you present opinions as facts.

Riaz Haq said…
Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) has evolved from Asia Pacific Multilateral Cooperation in Space Technology and Applications (AP-MCSTA), which came into being when an MoU was signed between China, Pakistan and Thailand in 1992 as a tripartite effort. The objectives of APSCO are to focus on space science / technology and its applications, education / training and cooperative research to promote peaceful uses of outer space in the region.

Among others, Turkey has recent joined the effort.

Turkey has joined Pakistan, China and six other countries in the region to make joint efforts for the development of space technology.

Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey in China Oktay Ozuye signed the Convention of the Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) on behalf of his government. Thus Turkey has become the ninth State to sign the APSCO Convention.

Informed sources said on Wednesday that the organization is aimed at promoting multilateral cooperation in the field of space technology.

Other six countries that have already inked the Convention are Iran, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Mongolia and Peru. Five countries Argentina, Brazil, Philippine, Russian Federation and Ukraine joined the APSCO with observer’s status.

Sources say that this is a big breakthrough in strengthening regional cooperation for peaceful use of outer space for the benefit of all mankind.

Pakistan and China played a pioneering role in establishing the organization, first of its kind to expand and intensify cooperation in space activities in the Asia-Pacific region.

This will enable the member countries to share their experience, know-how and potential for their common benefit. They will share their available resources in the use of satellite remote sensing data in environmental protection, natural resources exploitation as well as disaster monitoring and prevention.

The sources hoped that Pakistan and other member countries that joined APSCO will soon get the Convention ratified by their respective Parliaments to make it fully functional. Meanwhile, an interim council at the Ministerial level had been constituted to undertake necessary preparatory work.

China, being a host country has offered to provide full financial support for the establishment and operation of the APSCO until 2006. As such, the member States are not under any obligation to make financial contributions during the preparatory phase. However, they will be required to pay their financial contributions from the year 2007.

Taking in view the immense potential of Space Technology and its spin-offs in the socio-economic uplift of the countries, three Asia-Pacific countries, China, Pakistan and Thailand had taken an initiative and jointly signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in February 1992 for setting up the Asia-Pacific Multilateral Cooperation in Space Technology and Applications (AP-MCSTA).

According to the sources, the benefits to be accrued to the Asia-Pacific countries by virtue of their membership to APSCO will be enormous, including creation of multilateral compatibilities among space systems by the member states that can provide enhanced capabilities in several areas of space technology applications.
Riaz Haq said…
Here's a Businessweek piece by Bruce Einhorm on Chandrayan embarrassment for Indian ISRO fans:

There was some embarrassment in India after the untimely end of the country’s first mission to the Moon last month. The unmanned Chandrayaan-I spacecraft, which was supposed to last for two years, fell out of radio contact while in orbit around the Moon in late August, just ten months after its launch. That prompted some defensiveness from a fansite of the Indian Space Research Organization, which quickly played damage control by claiming the mission had accomplished much of its goals. said in a statement that it’s “not unusual” for things to go wrong in space. “NASA has faced several space mission failures and who can forget tragic end of space shuttle Columbia and the crew perished during entry, 16 minutes prior to landing.” * In other words, yes, our space mission crashed – but at least nobody died!

Now, though, ISRO fans don’t have to resort to poor-taste defensiveness. Indeed, Indians can crow that their nascent space program, through its short-lived Chandrayaan-I, has helped make one of the most important discoveries in the history of human exploration of the Moon. A NASA probe aboard the Chandrayaan-I detected water on the Moon’s surface, and the Indian press is euphoric. “One Big Step for India, One Giant Leap for Mankind,” crowed the Times of India. “If it weren’t for them (ISRO), we wouldn’t have been able to make this discovery,” the paper quoted Carle Pieters, the Brown University researcher who analyzed the data from the NASA probe, saying.

Unfortunately for ISRO, the agency won’t be able to capitalize quickly on the discovery. The next Indian space mission, the Chandrayaan-2 isn’t scheduled to launch until 2013. That means India would be behind China in a 21st-century Asian version of the U.S.-Soviet Union space race. The Chinese ended their first lunar mission earlier this year after 16 months and plan on landing a craft on the Moon in 2012. Japan’s in the race, too, having just completed its first lunar mission. In this Asian race, the Chinese seem to have the edge, but for now the engineers in India’s program can boast that their first mission turned out pretty well after all.
Riaz Haq said…
Former ISRO chief Madhavan Nair barred from holding Indian govt jobs, reports The Indian Express:

In an unprecedented disciplinary action, four of the biggest names in the space community, including former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) G Madhavan Nair, have been barred from occupying any government position — current or in future — for their role in the Antrix-Devas deal, in which a private company was accused to have been wrongfully allotted S-band frequencies for radio waves.

A Bhaskarnarayana, former scientific secretary in ISRO; K R Sridharmurthi, former managing director of Antrix which is the marketing arm of ISRO; and K N Shankara, former director in ISRO’s satellite centre, are the others who have been penalised, according to an order issued by the Department of Space on January 13, 2012.

Nair, during whose tenure the contract was signed, is the recipient of the Padma Vibhushan. He is the chairman of the board of governors of IIT Patna.

The order, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, is signed by Sandhya Venugopal Sharma, director, Department of Space. While it does not specify the allegations against these scientists, the order says that the decision comes after the government “carefully considered” the report of the high-powered review committee set up on February 10, 2011 and that of another team set up on May 31, 2011.

The order, sent to all Secretaries of the Government of India and Chief Secretaries of state governments and Union Territories, says that these “former Officers of the Department of Space shall be excluded from re-employment, committee roles or any other important role under the government”.

Further, the order states that “these former officers shall be divested of any current assignment/consultancy with the government with immediate effect”. Ministries and departments concerned have been asked to communicate necessary action taken towards the same to the Department of Space.

The deal involved a contract that Antrix Corporation — whose mandate is to market technologies developed by ISRO — had signed with Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia in 2005. The multi-million dollar deal gave Devas bulk lease — 90 per cent — of transponders on two yet-to-be-launched satellites for supporting a range of satellite-based applications for mobile devices through S-band frequencies. For this, the company was given access to 70 MHz of the 150 MHz spectrum that ISRO owns in the S-band.

The Cabinet approved the building of these two satellites — GSAT-6 for Rs 269 crore and GSAT-6A for Rs 147 crore — in 2009. The cost of the launch of satellites was to be Rs 350 crore. Interestingly, the Cabinet was not informed that these two satellites were meant to be used by Devas, a fact admitted by ISRO. ...
Riaz Haq said…
Jubilation and scepticism greet #India’s world #space record. #ISRO … via @FT

the fanfare masks a more modest reality — India has made a small inroad into the lucrative commercial space industry but headline-grabbing advances such as last month’s rocket launch have been far outstripped by China’s investments into a manned space station and robotic missions to the moon.

“The Chinese space programme operates on a very different scale than the Indian,” says Asif Siddiqi, professor of history at Fordham university. “It is much bigger, both in terms of annual launches and annual investments, it does a lot more in terms of actual capabilities and it also has a much more explicit military dimension.”

The new Indian record, which tripled Russia’s previous record of 37 satellites from a single rocket, was only possible because most of the spacecraft were extremely small, he added. India’s space agency received about $1.1bn of funding last year compared with an estimated $7-8bn in China, says Dinshaw Mistry, professor of political science and Asian studies at the University of Cincinnati.

In Beijing, India’s enthusiasm for its world record has been dismissed as overblown.

“China’s opponents in aerospace is not India but the United States. However, India always makes China its opponent, and every achievement is made into a victory against China and cheered,” ran an editorial in the Global Times, a state-sanctioned tabloid.

“The requirements for Indian rockets are all low cost, so they have a large emphasis on commercial launches, and they are mostly servicing foreign satellites. That is all they are doing,” says Lan Tianyi, chief executive of the Beijing-based aerospace consultancy Yuxun Technology. Most of the technology needed to pack 104 satellites onto one rocket came from foreign companies while “India only provided the rocket and the launch opportunity”, Mr Lan added.

While China has sought to emulate American space achievements and poured resources into high-profile missions like sending a rover to the moon, India has set more conservative targets.

According to Mr Lele, less than 5 per cent of India’s space budget is spent on long-term exploration or international competition. Instead, most is focussed on domestic missions such as environmental and metereological forecasting, or navigation.

India has a 0.6 per cent share of the commercial space industry — compared to China’s 3 per cent — a big growth area for companies that want to send satellites to space for research of commercial purposes, such as mapping or television transmission. The US is the biggest client for the $5.4bn industry, according to data from the Satellite Industry Association, a trade body.

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