New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday asked Indian scientists to build a satellite that could be used for civilian purposes by all South Asian countries.
Modi, who was addressing scientists of the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro) at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, urged them to take up the challenge of developing a satellite for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc).
“We should develop a satellite that we can dedicate to our neighbourhood and help Saarc nations achieve its objectives of access to education, and challenges of achieving scientific accomplishments,” said Modi.
Saarc is made up of eight nations—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India. Modi has made improving ties with Saarc countries a foreign policy priority, and leaders from six nations attended his swearing-in ceremony on 26 May.
Modi addressed scientists at Sriharikota after witnessing the successful lift-off of a polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV C-23) carrying five foreign satellites—the latest in a regular commercial venture undertaken by the Indian space agency.
“We must also enlarge the footprint of our satellite-based navigation system to cover all of South Asia, and enhance our space technologies by setting up partnerships for space technology,” Modi added in his first address to Isro scientists as prime minister.
With a 714-kg French earth observation satellite SPOT-7 as its main payload, the Indian rocket also carried a satellite each from Germany and Singapore and two from Canada. The five satellites were launched as per the arrangements that Antrix Corp. Ltd, the commercial arm of Isro, has entered with the respective foreign space agencies.
The prime minister said it was important for Isro to build new infrastructure and extend its capabilities to launch heavier satellites. “We could also think of developing a state-of-the-art, interactive, digital space museum,” he added as he urged Isro to take more steps to make the data available from satellites accessible to students and researchers.
“India has the potential to be the launch service provider of the world. We must work towards this goal,” he said.
The next important launch from Isro is likely to be in July when a geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV Mark III) equipped with a passive cryogenic engine is expected to be fired off.
India is among a select group of countries that provide commercial launch services, including the US, Russia, European Union, China and Japan. According to reports, Antrix had a revenue of Rs 1,300 crore in 2013-14 and expects a growth of about 15% in 2014-15.
In January, Antrix signed a launch services agreement with DMC International Imaging (DMCii), a subsidiary of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd SSTL), for the launch of three DMC-3 earth observation satellites. In February, Antrix signed another agreement with ST Electronics (Satcom & Sensor Systems) Pte Ltd, Singapore, for launch of TeLEOS-1 earth observation satellite. These launches are planned during end-2014 to end-2015.
“These launches were not important from a technological point of view, but what is important is that it is an out-and-out commercial launch. This means that more countries now find India to be reliable for launching their satellites,” said Ajey Lele, a research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. Lele added that even though the PSLV had launched 35 satellites till last year, not many of these were commercial.
“This means we are now making initial, but important steps into the commercial launch vehicle,” he said.