Why countries across the world trust ISRO to launch their satellites into space

The Indian Space research Organisation is fast becoming a powerful vehicle of India’s soft power.

 |  4-minute read |   22-09-2018
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On September 16, the Indian Space research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched two foreign satellites from Sriharikota. This PSLV C-42 mission was designed to launch two earth observation satellites — NovaSAR and S1-4 (together weighing nearly 889 kg) — of M/s Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited (SSTL), United Kingdom, under a commercial arrangement with Antrix Corporation Limited, Department of Space.

The PSLV C-42 mission was designed to launch two earth observation satellites — NovaSAR and S1-4 .The PSLV C-42 mission of September 16 was designed to launch two earth observation satellites — NovaSAR and S1-4 . (Photo: Screengrab/ISRO)

Broadly, both these satellites would provide assistance for forest mapping, land use and ice-cover monitoring, flood and disaster monitoring, surveying resources, environment monitoring, urban management and for disaster monitoring.

For ISRO, this could be considered more as a revenue generating activity, and it is expected that this commercial launch possibly has added a few hundreds of crores to the ISRO’s kitty.

Actually, since 1999, ISRO has been launching satellites for foreign customers on commercial basis. Before this launch, ISRO has sent 237 satellites into space for various customers. Most of these satellites have been of the variety of small and nano satellites — say in the rage of less than 50-kg weight. On many occasions, these satellites have gone as pick-back on India’s main payload. Five exclusive missions like the present one have also taken place, where a client’s payload has been launched.

The satellites will help with forest mapping, land use and ice-cover monitoring, flood and disaster monitoring.The satellites will help with forest mapping, land use and ice-cover monitoring, flood and disaster monitoring. (Photo: Reuters/file)

Such launches have been carried out for the states like Italy, Israel, France and Singapore. A broad analysis of all satellites launched on commercial basis so far indicates that India has provided this service to countries in various parts of the world —from Germany, France, UK, Belgium, Italy, Austria and Denmark in Europe to UAE, Kazakhstan,Turkey and Algeria in West Asia and adjoining regions to South East Asian states like Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Indonesia, to North American nations like the USA and Canada.

It is important to look at India’s collaboration with these states not only from a commercial point of view, but also note the larger geostrategic significance to it.

The most obvious question, which gets asked often, is why these states are getting attracted to ISRO for collaboration.

It is important to note that hardly 10-odd countries in the world have capabilities to launch satellites in space. Obviously, other countries need to depend on these for the launch of their satellites. Also, among these ten states are countries like North Korea and Iran, which have very rudimentary launch capabilities, and are also politically untouchable.

At present, the sensible options for hiring launch services are the European Union, USA, Russia, Japan and China. India is more of an emerging player in this market, but is increasingly getting more attention, because it has the most reliable and cost-effective launch facilities.

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) system is considered one of the most reliable launchers in the world. Now, ISRO is proposing to engage private players to sublet their launch services, which would allow it to concreate more on research aspects.

Over the years, ISRO has gained an impeccable reputation globally, and it is interesting to note that even countries that can launch their own satellites — USA, Japan, France and Israel— are opting for ISRO’s launcher.

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) system is considered one of the most reliable launchers in the worldThe Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) system is considered one of the most reliable launchers in the world. (Photo: ISRO)

ISRO, thus, is silently making a significant contribution towards enhancing India’s soft power potential.

Soft power rests on the capability to shape the preferences of others. It involves much more than merely influencing others — it involves the ability to launch a charm offensive. This normally leads to acquiescence. Today, there are many countries in the world that are ‘in awe’ of ISRO’s achievements. We have attracted a lot of global attention with the successful missions to the moon and Mars, and other record-making missions such as launching of 104 satellites in one go.

Today, India is getting recognised as a major player in the space domain. Unfortunately, India’s South Asian neighbours have till date not looked favourably towards India in the domain, and remain dependent on Europe and China. Even their participation in the South Asian satellite programme has become a reality only after much cajoling. 

Many countries in the world have made good progress in the arena of science and technology. However, many are found struggling when it comes to rocket science. Space technology is increasingly getting viewed as a symbol of power and prestige. If the possession of nuclear technology is viewed as a symbol of hard power, then the possession space technology could be viewed as symbol of soft power.

ISRO has attracted global attention with missions such as launching of 104 satellites in one goISRO has attracted global attention with missions such as launching 104 satellites in one go, which it did in February 2017. (Photo: PTI) 

For decades, this technology has affected the formulation of socioeconomic agenda of various counties, such as India. It has also made a significant impact on the most important traditional component of hard power —the military.

Today, ISRO is playing a key role of connecting continents and people via its satellite launch business model. From education to mobile telephony/communications and navigation to business, the footprint of ISRO is becoming all pervasive. 

Also read: How we can take science to more people

Writer

Ajey Lele Ajey Lele

The writer is a Senior Fellow with Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi.

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