Space: India-US Cooperation or Competition in the offing? Monday, Oct 27 2008 

Orbital paths of mission to Moon (Chandrayaan)

Orbital paths of mission to Moon (Chandrayaan)

While the present U. S. administration and U. S. Space agency NASA are for cooperation with India in space exploration, the U. S. Presidential candidate Barack Obama is for competition.

While the White House and the U. S. suppliers hailed India’s entry into the Lunar Orbit, Mr. Obama told a public gathering that the U. S. should take increasing competence of India and China in space exploration seriously and spur up its space programme to keep the lead.

“As President, I will lead our space programme boldly into the 21st century – so when my daughters, and all our children, look up to the skies, they see Americans leading the way into the deepest reaches of our solar system,” Mr. Obama said stressing the need to revitalise U. S. space programme.

Whether this is election rhetoric and a position that would yield to business interests, once he is in power, is a million dollar question. In any case, a space deal with the United States after nuclear deal would be more difficult if Mr. Obama comes to power. Besides, India has signed up with Russia for supply of some crucial equipment for Chandrayaan II. (My earlier post on the subject stands amended thus.)

It is notable that while the White House described the successful launch of the Moon mission as exciting and encouraging for India, the United States India Business Council celebrated India’s debut on a Moon mission that carries two US instruments on board. The Council, representing 280 of the largest US companies investing in India, described the mission as the beginning of long “relationship promoting the opening of the frontier of outer space.”

American supplier of defence and space equipments Raytheon supplied some of the instrumentation for Chandrayaan.

After the nuclear deal, a space deal? Wednesday, Oct 15 2008 

After the nuclear deal, India appears to be heading for a space deal with the United States.

India and the United States are already collaborating in prospecting for water in the Moon as part of the Chandrayaan I Mission. It is significant that the focus of the  Mission is on the South pole of the Moon where the United States plans to set up a base by 2020.

Four instruments on the Chandrayaan satellite—two from the United States and one from Germany, are aimed at detecting water in the craters of the Lunar South Pole, among other things. The Moon impact probe, developed by the Vikram Sabarabhai Space Centre in Kerala, will also be colliding with the rim of the Shackleton crater on the South Pole.

Detection of water in the South Pole could be tremendous boost for plans to set up an outpost on the Moon as space agencies would not have to look elsewhere for drinking water and oxygen and hydrogen (which can be produced through electrolysis of water and can be used as fuel.) The South Pole is also blessed with almost round the clock perennial sunlight, which could power the camps.

As both the United States and India are prospecting the rim of Shackleton crater, it could be only for two things— collaboration or competition. The former is more likely and India could actually be catering to the United States.

The United States has in the past thwarted India’s attempt to obtain cryogenic technology from the Soviet Union and an order for launching a Taiwanese satellite. However, current political milieu points towards collaboration in space. It is also not easy for nations to compete in space exploration and prospecting for minerals because of the costs involved. So, it is likely that nations with some capability for space exploration would prefer to have an agreement for sharing of resources as in the case of Antarctica.

Related: Chandrayaan looking to help establish lunar bases

ISRO and high attitudes Monday, Oct 22 2007 


The Indian Space Research Organisation is reportedly insisting that the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology should be in the Merchiston estate area near Ponmudi in Kerala.

If the IAS officers are trained at Mussorie, space scientists too should be trained at a high altitude location. Then, they should have a clear view of skies as astronomy is going to be one of the subjects of study. It has already declared that the Government land at the top of Ponmudi and the old helipad there are unsuitable for the purpose.

V. S. Achuthanandan at PonmudiThey claim that IIST is going to be the third Space Institute to be in the world. This does not appear to be true. (Here is a list of space institutes of the world.) Several of them have campuses in the cities and the plains. Though institutes such as Caltec have facilities on mountaintops for astronomical observations, their campuses are elsewhere. Why can’t the ISRO be satisfied with an observatory at a high altitude location and a campus on the plains?

The ISRO authorities have persuaded Achuthanandan to visit Ponmudi. The Chief Minister understood that it was any way going to work to his advantage. If the Government were to agree to their demand, he would be doing so after an on-the-spot study. If not, it would be another crusade against corruption and environmental degradation.

One of the points that the ISRO authorities was keen to point out to the visiting delegation was that the area cleared for the helipad was in the middle of the tea estate. They were silent about the fact that the estates at Ponmudi are surrounded by evergreen forests.

The Cabinet knows all about that and much more. Hence, the delay in taking a decision. While the Chief Minister is inclined to award the land to ISRO so that the Institute could be retained in Kerala, Forest Minister Binoy Viswam is a cat that fell into the hot water before.