Bangalore, June 3: This marriage will be made on earth, but the union will be in the heavens.
A slew of collaborative projects in the distant skies is likely to take shape here during the first-ever conference of Indian and American space scientists, policy makers and industry leaders scheduled between June 21 and 25 (see chart).
One of the sessions will be on the proposed lunar base and manned mission to Mars (in 2020) mooted by President George W. Bush and the addition of a 10-kg experimental payload onboard the Indian satellite that would orbit the Moon in 2007.
“This will be a good platform for scientists and aerospace industries. The discussions will mean a lot for us when we meet experts from Nasa and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration),” scientists at Antriksh Bhavan, the headquarters of Isro, said.
The scientists said a “vision statement” would be released at the end of the conference. The statement will be based on discussions on new areas of co-operation in space research as well as opportunities for enhanced commercial activities, particularly to wrest a slice of the global, multibillion-dollar satellite manufacture and launch market.
“We are going to have executives of companies like Raytheon, Boeing and Northrop Grumman Corp. here to talk to representatives of Indian industries. A number of American companies that could not participate in air shows and exhibitions in the past will be here this time,” said a scientist.
The conference is being organised by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the Astronautical Society of India.
It is being sponsored by Isro, the US state department, the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum, Nasa and NOAA.
“We welcome such a forum and are certain that our capabilities could be knitted together to corner a share of the market in production and launch of satellites,” said K.R. Sridhara Murthy, the executive director of Antrix Corporation, the corporate arm of Isro.
“This would be the ideal collaboration because they have a large number of industries involved in space activities with whom we could work out co-production of satellites, bringing into play our advantage of inexpensive production costs and vast trained manpower in Isro. We could offer to launch their two-ton satellites at competitive rates or request them to market our capabilities in launching satellites to customers across the world.”
Murthy said Antrix officials and US companies would hold discussions in the next couple of months on likely business partnerships.
In fact, Antrix and Space Imaging Inc. of the US have cornered one-third of the $1 billion global satellite images market through a pact signed in the mid-nineties and have been beaming remote sensing satellite images through a dozen earth stations. Antrix has offered to co-produce satellites along with US companies such as Matra Marconi Space and Hughes for international agencies like IMMERSAT and INTELSAT.
Interestingly, Nasa played a key role when India launched its space programme in 1963. It donated a Nike Apache rocket, which blasted off on November 21, 1963, signalling the birth of India’s space-faring plans.
Between 1982 and 1990, Isro bought four first generation communications and meteorological satellites — the Insat-I series — from Ford Aerospace and Communications Corporation and launched a couple of them using US-Delta rockets.
But the ties suffered a setback when the space shuttle Challenger blew up during its flight in 1986, putting on hold US plans to fly an Indian cosmonaut and launch an Indian satellite. It forced Isro to turn to the European Space Agency for launching its satellites from Kourou, French Guyana
A further setback came in 1992 when the US government slapped a two-year technology embargo on Isro, accusing it of violating the Missile Technology Control Regime when it signed a Rs 230-crore deal with the Soviet space agency, Glavcosmos, for six cryogenic engines to power its GSLV rockets. It turned the clock back by two years for Isro’s satellite projects.
When the embargo ended, Antrix and the American company EoSat (later Space Imaging) signed the contract for global marketing of Isro’s remote sensing satellite images.
The ties were severed again in 1998 after the Pokhran nuclear tests. After the sanctions were waived in 2000, Isro and Nasa signed an agreement for joint studies on global weather.