Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the space programme, observing that ''our space scientists have made us global leaders in one of the most complex areas of modern technology.''
For the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Monday was another red-letter day. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), in its twenty-sixth consecutive successful flight and the fourth wholly commercial launch, put the French earth observation satellite, SPOT-7, as well as four tiny satellites from Germany, Canada and Singapore, into orbit with characteristic élan. On hand at Sriharikota to witness the launch was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In a forceful speech immediately afterwards, the Prime Minister lauded the space programme and held it up as an example of what the country could achieve, observing that “our space scientists have made us global leaders in one of the most complex areas of modern technology.” India must, he said, share “the fruits of our technological advancement with those who do not enjoy the same.” He called for the development of a “SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] satellite” that would provide useful applications and services to neighbouring countries. China, it should be noted, already uses its space capabilities for soft-power diplomacy, one example being an agreement with Brazil to jointly build earth observation satellites. Mr. Modi clearly intends to deploy India’s space technology as part of the country’s diplomatic outreach. However, before turning the prime ministerial suggestion into hardware, ISRO would do well to get inputs from the other South Asian nations about their pressing needs that could be effectively addressed with space technology.
The Indian space agency is well-placed to provide the sort of assistance that the Prime Minister envisages. From its inception, the raison d’être of the Indian space programme has been the harnessing of space technology to meet the day-to-day necessities of a developing nation. Today, India is able to build and launch satellites for meteorology, earth observation and communications. Mr. Modi paid a tribute to the vision with which the space programme was established, pointing out how modern communications, space imaging and disaster management capabilities provided by Indian satellites had benefited the common man and transformed policy planning and implementation. The Prime Minister was emphatic about enhancing these capabilities, as well as maximising their utilisation for governance and development. Apart from developing more advanced satellites, he wanted to see India become “the launch service provider of the world.” Turning these goals into reality will not be easy; at present, the country is able to cater to only a small segment of the international launch market and must launch its own heavy communications satellites abroad. But ISRO has risen to challenges before, and can do so again.