South Asia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Satel­lite

In the suc­cess­ful launch of the South Asia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Satel­lite, ISRO has once again dis­played its level of com­pe­tence and the ca­pa­bil­ity to lead from the front


While the na­tion was still savour­ing the suc­cess by way of a global record achieved by the In­dian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ISRO) with the launch in mid-Fe­bru­ary this year of a record 104 satel­lites at one go, most of which were from abroad, his­tory was scripted again on May 05, 2017, when ISRO suc­cess­fully launched the South Asia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Satel­lite, the GSAT-9 that was car­ried into space by the Geosyn­chronous Satel­lite Launch Ve­hi­cle (GSLV-F09) the up­per stage of which was pow­ered by an in­dige­nously de­vel­oped cryo­genic en­gine. Weigh­ing 2230 kg at lift-off, the satel­lite which is de­signed to op­er­ate from a geo­sta­tion­ary or­bit, is ex­pected to have an op­er­a­tional life of more than 12 years. The satel­lite has been equipped with 12 Ku-Band transpon­ders that has been de­vel­oped at a cost of Rs 235 crore. The to­tal cost of the pro­ject in­clu­sive of the launch is es­ti­mated to be around Rs 450 crore. This was the eleventh flight of GSLV and the fourth con­sec­u­tive launch of GSLV-F09.

Brief His­tory and Achieve­ments of ISRO

With the in­ten­tion of the newly in­de­pen­dent na­tion mak­ing a foray into the regime of space ex­plo­ration, in 1962, the Govern­ment of In­dia had es­tab­lished the In­dian Na­tional Com­mit­tee for Space Re­search (INCOSPAR), a con­cept driven jointly by the first Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia Jawa­har­lal Nehru and the leg­endary sci­en­tist Vikram Sarab­hai who is gen­er­ally re­garded a the fa­ther of In­dia’s space pro­gramme. Sub­se­quently in 1969, INCOSPAR was re­placed by ISRO, a far more em­pow­ered or­gan­i­sa­tion un­der the Depart­ment of Space re­port­ing di­rectly to the of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia.

Dur­ing its nearly fifty years of ex­is­tence, ISRO has built up an im­pres­sive record of achieve­ments. Its jour­ney into space be­gan with the first satel­lite Aryab­hata for the launch of which on April 19, 1975, the space agency had to seek as­sis­tance from the Soviet Union. How­ever, five years later, ISRO was able to suc­cess­fully place in or­bit the Ro­hini satel­lite with the help of the in­dige­nously built Satel­lite

Launch Ve­hi­cle-3. ISRO then went on to de­velop the highly suc­cess­ful Po­lar Satel­lite Launch Ve­hi­cle and the GSLV ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing heav­ier pay­loads. ISRO also de­vel­oped mul­ti­ple satel­lite launch ca­pa­bil­ity that en­abled the agency to place in or­bit nu­mer­ous com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Earth ob­ser­va­tion satel­lites and nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems such as GAGAN and IRNSS. ISRO ac­com­plished Chan­drayaan-!, a mis­sion to the Moon in 2008 and the Mars Or­biter Mis­sion in 2014. So far, ISRO has launched 226 satel­lites, in­clud­ing 179 be­long­ing to for­eign coun­tries. ISRO is now re­ported to be work­ing on Chan­drayaan-II, hu­man space flight, a mis­sion to Venus and a probe to the Sun.

In the suc­cess­ful launch of the South Asia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Satel­lite, ISRO has once again dis­played its level of com­pe­tence and the ca­pa­bil­ity to lead from the front, at­tributes not usu­ally ob­served in the other Pub­lic Sec­tor Un­der­tak­ings in In­dia es­pe­cially those in the regime of aero­space and de­fence.

Space Diplo­macy

Soon af­ter as­sum­ing of­fice in 2014, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi had tasked the sci­en­tists at ISRO to de­velop a com­mu­ni­ca­tion satel­lite that would be for use by the na­tions of the South Asian As­so­ci­a­tion for Re­gional Co­op­er­a­tion (SAARC), an eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion of eight na­tions in South Asia which con­sists of In­dia, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Mal­dives, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pak­istan. At the SAARC Sum­mit in 2014, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi em­barked on “space diplo­macy” and made a com­mit­ment to launch a com­mu­ni­ca­tion satel­lite for use ex­clu­sively by na­tions of the SAARC. This was a clear pro­jec­tion of his in­tent to strengthen his “neigh­bour first pol­icy”.

As per the plans drawn up by Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, the satel­lite was in­tended to be a “pre­cious gift” from In­dia to the other seven na­tions of SAARC that would pro­vide telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion links amongst them as also ad­dress the re­gion’s eco­nomic and de­vel­op­men­tal pri­or­i­ties. From the point of view of the tech­nol­ogy in­volved in the devel­op­ment and launch of the South Asia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Satel­lite and plac­ing it in a geo­sta­tion­ary or­bit, it was well

within the ca­pa­bil­ity of ISRO and as such, the ex­er­cise would not have posed any ex­tra­or­di­nary chal­lenge to the ca­pa­bil­ity of the or­gan­i­sa­tion. How­ever, the im­pact of the South Asia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Satel­lite will be more geopo­lit­i­cal in na­ture and its in­flu­ence on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween In­dia and the other na­tions of SAARC will def­i­nitely be of sig­nif­i­cance. This has clearly been the thrust of the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship at the na­tional level which is ev­i­dent in the ideas and sen­ti­ments ex­pressed by the Prime Min­is­ter in his mes­sage af­ter the suc­cess­ful launch of the South Asia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Satel­lite, to the mem­ber na­tions of SAARC who are part of the scheme.

In a video con­fer­ence with the lead­ers of the part­ner na­tions, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi said, “It was a jour­ney to build the most ad­vanced fron­tier in our part­ner­ship and that our com­ing to­gether is a sign of our un­shake­able re­solve to place the needs of our peo­ples in the fore­front. We are a fam­ily of South Asian coun­tries, united in our pur­suit of peace, progress and pros­per­ity of our re­gion and the en­tire hu­mankind. We ex­tend our close links into Outer Space and space tech­nol­ogy will touch the lives of our peo­ple in the re­gion. This launch has shown us that even the sky is not the limit when it comes to re­gional co­op­er­a­tion. Con­vinced that when we join hands and mu­tu­ally share fruits of knowl­edge, tech­nol­ogy and growth, we can speed up devel­op­ment and pros­per­ity. The sup­port by the lead­ers of part­ner na­tions will add even more joy in the hearts and minds of our re­gion.”

South Asia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Satel­lite

The South Asia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Satel­lite in geo­sta­tion­ary or­bit is de­signed to im­prove the ca­pa­bil­ity of each of the part­ner na­tions in the area of dis­as­ter man­age­ment through bet­ter con­nec­tiv­ity and speedy com­mu­ni­ca­tion amongst them. In ad­di­tion, the satel­lite which is equipped with Ku band transpon­ders, will fa­cil­i­tate and en­hance ca­pa­bil­i­ties in other ar­eas such as e-gov­er­nance, telee­d­u­ca­tion, tele-medicine, broad­cast within the coun­try, Directto-Home ser­vices and VSAT ca­pac­ity with other link­ing ser­vices. While In­dia is bear­ing the cost of the devel­op­ment and launch of the South Asia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Satel­lite, the part­ner na­tions will be re­quired to build the re­quired in­fra­struc­ture on the ground.

Un­for­tu­nately, Pak­istan has turned out to be a ma­jor im­ped­i­ment for the suc­cess of the scheme and in turn could im­pinge on the unity and har­mony of SAARC. The rea­son put for­ward by Pak­istan for not par­tic­i­pat­ing in the scheme is that it has its own space pro­gramme. Pak­istan ini­ti­ated its space pro­gramme eight years be­fore In­dia did. To­day, it has five satel­lites, but lacks heavy duty satel­lite launch ve­hi­cles and fa­cil­i­ties for fab­ri­ca­tion of satel­lites. But per­haps the pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion for Pak­istan not to par­tic­i­pate in the scheme is the on­go­ing rea­son is the on­go­ing con­flict with In­dia over Jammu and Kash­mir as also mis­trust bar­ri­ers on own­er­ship and con­trol of the satel­lite and re­lated sys­tems. Pak­istan holds that as the South Asia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Satel­lite is made solely by In­dia, it can­not be called a re­gional pro­ject. As per a spokesper­son from the for­eign of­fice, Pak­istan is pre­pared to share its ex­per­tise and tech­no­log­i­cal know-how and is keen to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­ject only if it has a role in the devel­op­ment, launch and op­er­a­tion of the satel­lite. How­ever, as In­dia had made it clear that it would build, launch and op­er­ate the satel­lite, Pak­istan would not like to be a part of the scheme. This un­for­tu­nately is a ma­jor blow to the spirit of unity of SAARC that has been and is the en­dur­ing ob­jec­tive of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi.

How­ever, the im­pact of the South Asia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Satel­lite will be more geopo­lit­i­cal in na­ture and its in­flu­ence on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween In­dia and the other na­tions of SAARC will def­i­nitely be of sig­nif­i­cance

The China Fac­tor

In the eu­pho­ria fol­low­ing the suc­cess­ful launch of the South Asia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Satel­lite, the im­pli­ca­tions of the in­volve­ment of China in some of the na­tions of SAARC ought not to be ig­nored. Sri Lanka al­ready has a Chi­nese satel­lite and is in the process of get­ting the sec­ond one in 2018. Apart from Pak­istan that is fully un­der her in­flu­ence, China has made in­roads into Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Mal­dives. In the regime of space tech­nol­ogy, Pak­istan and Sri Lanka have launched satel­lites with help from China. Even Nepal, the Mal­dives and Afghanistan have held pre­lim­i­nary dis­cus­sions with China on fu­ture satel­lite projects. In­dia’s space diplo­macy will have to fac­tor in and ag­gres­sively counter the Chi­nese in­flu­ence in the re­gion. This will be a ma­jor chal­lenge for the In­dian lead­er­ship.

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