‘Time for ISRO to step up efforts and extend a hand to the Latin American Region’

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Updated: Oct 21, 2020 5:24 PM

This has been created under the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), and the main purpose is to share knowledge and long term commitments in the Space sector.

"These 20 payload (scientific instruments) proposals, including collaborative contributions from Russia, France, Sweden and Germany, are currently under review", the ISRO official said.

Earlier this month, two South American nations Mexico and Argentina have signed the Declaration on the Constitution of a Regional Cooperation Mechanism in the Space Field to create Latin American and Caribbean Space Agency (ALCE). This has been created under the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), and the main purpose is to share knowledge and long term commitments in the Space sector.

What does it mean for Indian Space Research Organisation which already has individual agreements with the two countries and others in the region? Will it open up more opportunities for private sector?

Financial Express Online interviews the ambassador of Mexico to India, International Astronautical Federation (IAF) GRULAC Chairman, and a former envoy of India to the region.

Former Ambassador of India to Colombia & Ecuador Ravi Bangar considers this new agreement to be a good initiative. In his view “This could be anchor space for sciences and technologies strongly in the LAC region. Though the countries at present have some ongoing national programmes, this Mexico-Argentina agreement could be the precursor to bilateral and regional activities. This will enlarge the area of cooperation and improve efficiencies, promote regional integration.”

“India has the experience of launching and successfully operating South Asia satellite. The satellite provides crucial information on tele-medicine, tele-education, banking and television broadcasting opportunities. It is also equipped with remote sensing state of the art technology which enables collection of real-time weather data and helps in observations of the geology of the South Asian nations. India could share its experiences and offer collaboration to this new space venture in Latin America,” Mr Bangar opines.

Following are excerpts from an interaction with Mexico’s Ambassador to India Federico Salas:-

ISRO is already training in forest fire management under an agreement with the Mexican Aerospace Agency (AEM). Any other areas in Space they can work together as individual agencies?

Since its creation in 2010, the Mexican Space Agency has been developing ties of cooperation with the ISRO. In 2014, both agencies signed an MOU on Space Cooperation for peaceful purposes. In 2016, a workshop on best practices to use space technology for disaster management was held in Mexico with the participation of four Indian experts. More than 130 official and scholars attended the workshop.

Being a country surrounded by two oceans –the Pacific and the Atlantic- and considering the changes of weather in both shores, Mexico is interested in bringing broader benefits of space technology to the general population, such as the protection against natural disasters using alert and monitoring technologies, including the forest fire management, as well as the improvement of agricultural productivity.

Besides the training, the cooperation between the two agencies could take the form of mobile technologies for disaster risk reduction and prevention. An app for smartphones can be adapted to be used in Mexico as an early warning for forest fires.

Moreover, Mexico already works in the download of satellite images with a wide range of possible applications. In this regard, our cooperation can be further developed — including projects such as spreading internet services to all the population of Mexico by 2024 and enhancing digital inclusion. These objectives of the government of Mexico could profit from international cooperation and benefit, specifically, from the capabilities of India in the space sector.

Are there opportunities for Mexican companies to work with Indian companies in building satellites, etc?

The Mexican Space Agency has recently enhanced its partnership with the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation (AMEXCID) to articulate capacities and to develop infrastructure -including satellites- with the national and international scientific community.

In this frame, it recently signed a strategic partnership agreement with the National Autonomous University of Mexico for the promotion and development of projects on satellites and space.

The Mexican Space Agency is also working with the Mexican Federation of Aerospace industry (FEMIA), which gathers the private aerospace sector nationwide, including multinational enterprises. Both are willing to grow the capacities of the Mexican companies in the sector. According to FEMIA, México is currently the 3rd destination of FDI in the aerospace sector and the 10th world exporter.

Under ALCE , how can ISRO contribute?

Mexico wishes that the excellent collaboration developed so far between the Mexican and Indian agencies could be broadened to the new regional agency.

For many years, Mexico has successfully cooperated with the Latin American and Caribbean region in prevention and preparation for natural disasters. Not only through the Mexican Aerospace Agency, but as well with the support of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) regarding satellite geo-referred data.

More recently, Mexico has invited the aerospace agencies in the region. For example, in collaboration with CELAC members, last July it was considered the joint development of a nanosatellite.

Furthermore, last July, Mexico as pro tempore President of the Latin American and Caribbean Community (CELAC) presented an initiative to create a regional Space Agency and invited the national space agencies of the member States to be part of it.

This initiative became part of the 2020 Work Plan of CELAC and will continue in 2021, after the re-election of Mexico as pro tempore president of the said Community in the frame of the 75th UNGA last September.

Cdr. Ronnie Nader – EXA Cosmonaut; CE/CTO & Space Operations Director – EXA & IAF GRULAC Chairman shares his views about the agreement and how India can benefit. Following are excerpts of an interaction with him:

What are your thoughts on the Argentina-Mexico Space & creation of the ALCE?

Firstly, we have to read between the lines here, or more through the fog of the press: The announcement is more like an MOU or a LOI (Letter of Intent), there is no creation of anything here, is certainly a big step forward, as this idea has been floating around for decades, now this step means that the idea has stepped up to a new level, more serious, but just between Mexico and Argentina cannot just create a Latin American Space Agency out of the blue and just signing papers, such a thing needs the approval of parliaments on both sides, approval of budgets, plans of action, the appointment of officials, etc. not to mention that more countries sum up to the initiative. Just between two countries cannot create something like this; Latin America is not made of just two countries.

Secondly, countries like Brazil already have vibrant Space program — how does that merge in this? That is a very tricky question: I think it will take time and a lot of convincing for other countries to adhere to the initiative, and to thrive and grow, the initiative must insist and be prepared to resist pressures against it and to persevere, but in general, I think that the time is coming for such an idea. It is not yet here but is near and this initiative is timely for preparing the region for such arrival. Also, many countries do work together already and the least of that effort is made by their space agencies, if any, the cooperative working is mainly done by non governmental institutions like universities and aerospace companies or institutions, such is the case of Mexico, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, Guatemala, etc.

What role India/ISRO can play in this? Is there a special agreement expected to be inked for India to get involved in this?

Not to my knowledge, not right now, however, ISRO’s capabilities and affordable services are known and have been used in regional projects, I would dare to foretell that ISRO could become a launch provider or a partner in some heavy-lifting missions like lunar or planetary missions in the future, then again, all starts with goodwill, diplomacy, but above all, real work.

Countries like Argentina & Mexico are already working with ISRO — what more can be done?

As I said earlier, maybe it is time for ISRO to step up their efforts and extend a hand to the region, before others, do: USA, China, Russia have worked more extensively than ISRO with the region, for example. Maybe a good idea will be to invite the most advanced countries in the region to a high profile mission like the one to Venus or Mars or the Moon and take advantage of the momentum and create a niche for itself in our community. India is a country that is well regarded in the region and has the advantage of not carrying politics with itself, which is something very valuable in the sector.

Do you think countries like Bolivia, Paraguay, and Guatemala etc will be part of this grouping being created?

It is something to be better left to those countries actors, I would not dare to share my personal opinion on those countries, as much as I know them and their space sectors due to my role in the IAF GRULAC, I think that those countries will sooner or later show their intentions about this initiative.

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