Wednesday, July 27, 2011
India and U.S. Talk About Space - But Not On The Right Frequency
Here's an anaysis on the recent U.S.-India strategic dialogue from the space perspective ... citing me. The link is also available at Space Today.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was welcomed warmly in India on
what may well be her final trip there as a senior U.S. government
official. From a space perspective, assuming a more productive outcome
was somehow achievable, this trip never reached its intended orbit. It
never even came close.
For example, in her lengthy column in The Pioneer - "India-US display
space blindness" - Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a senior fellow
at the Observer Research Foundation, made her unhappiness about this
lost opportunity in this instance quite clear.
She lamented that no clear goal, no bilateral funding, and certainly,
no new public-private partnerships were forged. She identified several
"cutting edge areas" where cooperation could occur including "space
access, in-space maneuver, space logistics, space infrastructure, etc."
Any chance for job creation was lost in the process, she said.
And she concluded as well that what is needed is, "another big idea to
steer the relationship and take it to the next level." Space
cooperation never surfaced as a viable option, however.
A U.S. Department of State fact sheet entitled, "U.S.-India Science,
Technology and Innovation Cooperation" tried to put a positive spin on
"Indian Space Research Organization: The United States and India are
committed to building closer ties in space exploration, space science
and earth observation. Both countries are dedicated to using their
space programs to expand the frontiers of scientific knowledge and
produce tangible benefits for their populations. The removal of Indian
Space Research Organization (ISRO) and subordinate agencies from the
Entities List in February 2011 marked a significant step in eliminating
remaining barriers to greater cooperation in space exploration and
"Civil Space Working Group: By exchanging and utilizing satellite-based
scientific data about the Earth, its climate, weather, and geophysical
features, the United States and India are working together to share
information on tropical weather, monsoon forecasting and climate
change. At the July 13-14 Civil Space Working Group, the two countries
took steps towards their cooperation in this area by concluding
substantive discussion on Oceansat-II and Megha-Tropiques missions,
which will help the countries refine scientific models and improve
understanding of global weather patterns."
The India-US joint statement issued in New Delhi on July 19 mentioned
the session held by the US – India Joint Space Working Group on Civil
Space Cooperation in Bangalore.
"Building on the successful Chandrayan-1 lunar mission, NASA and ISRO
reviewed potential areas for future cooperation in earth observation,
space exploration, space sciences and satellite navigation. Both sides
agreed for early finalization three new implementing arrangements for
sharing satellite data on oceans and global weather patterns.
Recognising the research opportunities available on the International
Space Station, both sides agreed to explore the possibilities of joint
experiments. NASA reiterated its willingness to discuss potential
cooperation with ISRO on human spaceflight activities. The two sides
also agreed to expand upon previous work in the area of global
navigation satellite systems (GNSS) with the goal of promoting
compatibility and interoperability between the US Global Positioning
System, India’s Navigation systems, and those of other countries."
Keep in mind that during her speech at the Anna Centenary Library in
Chennai, Sec. Clinton knew full well that here reference to "deepening
our defense cooperation" could soon swing the door wide open as far as
the U.S. space connection to India's Defence Research and Development
Organisation (DRDO) is concerned, although someone has to unlock the
Was it merely a coincidence that at the start of the very same day,
India elected to test-fire one of its newest shorter range, tactical
missiles known as the `Prahaar', and that Defence Minister AK Antony
sent his congratulations to the DRDO before Sec. Clinton stepped to the
Otherwise, the overall timing of this trip was simply not right for any major announcements regarding U.S. - Indian space relations.
Was it because the ASEAN Regional Forum was looming? No, the U.S. and China were both navigating carefully already anyway, and aside from a few rhetorical salvos, no U.S. attempt to bolster India's standing in space would have proven too disruptive to those talks.
What about Sec. Clinton's mention of the inauguration of a trilateral
U.S.-India-Japan dialogue in Chennai? Sure, this could yield profound
consequences in space, but here again, the realities of the Indian
nuclear deals represent an enormous counterweight.
In the end, no pressing foreign policy concerns along with the latest U.S. attempts to outmaneuver the Chinese at sea are are not what probably caused the Obama administration to ease back on the throttle here. India's nuclear sector was not the determining factor either.
In fact, Indian commentators generally overlooked the state of disarray permeating the U.S. space sector as a whole. As thousands of U.S. space workers at NASA and major space contractors were being handed pink slips, President Obama in his quest for a second term no doubt did not think it to be a wise idea to be seen as someone who was crafting an aggressive space partnering campaign with India - placing even more American jobs in jeopardy. One might argue that so what given that President Obama has no supporters left in the U.S, space sector today, but that is simply not true.
So, did domestic political considerations shape the relatively sparse menu of space offerings in this instance? This cannot be dismissed altogether.
On the other hand, India might want to weigh the possible repercussions of what NASA was undertaking on the ISS as well. One of the best American commentators active in the "New Space" sector issued a cautionary note this past week, something that readers and space planners in India and elsewhere simply cannot ignore.
In his latest newsletter, Charles Lurio included a section on,
"Refueling Experiment and Issues of Commercialization"
Lurio outlined how the “Robotic Refueling Mission” (RRM) which was
carried aloft by the last Shuttle flight earlier this month includes an
“activity board” designed for use by the Canadian-built “Dextre”
robotic system which is already aboard the ISS.
Lurio proceeds to highlight the RRM's testing of technology and
procedures required for refueling, “even [of] satellites not designed
to be serviced.”
So on top of everything else, as India emphasizes its heavy rockets,
and lays the groundwork for Indian launchers to be adorned with
countless new large payloads, NASA stands ready to extend the life of
the entire space infrastructure not just GEOs - we are only talking
about roughly 290 GEO satellites on station today - and restructuring
the entire satellite food chain in the process.
Sorry, but what went on during this trip - that is the last Shuttle
mission to the ISS with the RRM aboard - might end up exerting far more
influence on the Indian space sector in the years to come than Sec.
Clinton's final mission to India.
India's solution in the face of these and other variables could be to
react accordingly - forego partnerships promised but not secured while
innovating like crazy - adapting again to a new set of challenges.