During the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US, the main concern of the American companies that Isro is subsidising its commercial launches and that these companies will not be able to compete with India’s low prices, will be addressed.
“The two countries have to move past civil space collaboration to look at space security issues. Space has to be looked at as one more area for strengthening the broader strategic partnership between India and the US. Maritime Domain Awareness is of interest in particular. Given the geopolitics of the Asia Pacific, including the Indian Ocean and other maritime spaces, this is an important segment for cooperation both at bilateral level and beyond,” sources privy to New Delhi’s thinking told FE.
Daniel Porras, attorney, International Space Law and Policy, LMI Advisors, told FE, “There is no doubt that more cooperation is desirable between the US and Indian space activities, the question of form is all that remains. To this end, there are three main US actors who are arguing over India. First, there are numerous satellite manufacturers and operators who want more, cheaper launches available. These companies are producing more satellites than cannot be launched fast enough by the US launch sector alone. These parties are advocating for the ban on the PSLV to be lifted. Secondly, there are the launch service providers who want to keep the ban in place until India signs a Commercial Space Launch Agreements (CSLA).”
“That way their prices will not be undercut by a subsidised launch service provider. Finally, there is the government. US agencies, such as Nasa, are all in favour of increased cooperation and have lately been more willing to grant waivers to companies that want to launch on the PSLV. However, the government must also bear in mind the needs of its ‘nascent’ launch industry and so will continue to have a problem with Indian space subsidies,” he points out.
The US hesitancy to let American small satellite companies use the Indian PSLV launcher is by and large market-driven, however, given that the US currently lacks the capacity to offer launch services for small satellites, it is judicious to use the Indian services available currently. “The fact that the launch services offered through the Indian PSLV are the cheapest makes it an attractive proposition. It is not that the US can find a solution in 3-5 years. Hence, it is in the interests of the US government to open up the sector, especially considering that it is India and not China that is offering these services. Looked at from a strategic perspective too, there is a lot more congruence between India and the US and this should open itself as an area of cooperation,” says Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, head, Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative, ORF.