The race for resources in the Moon and Mars has already begun with the outer space already being securitised and if not still weaponised. But the Indian government is yet to take lead in the global efforts to frame rules for outer space. Is it the right approach, question space experts and senior scientists.
Space scientists and experts feel it is the right time for India to take active part in the negotiations on framing rules and regulations and the international code of conduct for space.
Participating the ORF Kalpana Chawla Annual Space Policy Dialogue, organised in Delhi from February 24-26, DR. VK Saraswat, former chief of the DRDO and Scientific Adviser to Defence Minister, said if India didn't take initiative now and sit back, it may lead to the same kind of mistake as it did in the case nuclear regimes like the NPT and CTBT.
"We will have to suffer a lot as we did in the nuclear regime, for taking a lackadaisical approach," Dr. Saraswat, now a member of the NITI Ayog, warned. He said from India, there have not been adequate efforts to take part in negotiations and take the lead.
Dr. Saraswat said already the orbit is overcrowded and there is even talk of militarisation. China has developed Anti Satellite weapon, ASAT, like the US.
He called for a global consensus on a space code to tackle the issue of millions of debris left out in the space, which is a danger to not only the working Satellites but even to the environment and the humanity.
Another former Brahmos Missiles chief and now a Distinguished Professor at the ISRO, Dr. Sivathanu Pillai, said studies are on how to bring to earth the massive resources in the Moon and Mars. Pointing out that one million ton of Helimum3 is enough to meet the energy of the world, he said there are massive reserves of Helium in the Moon.
He pointed out that the rocket technology was first developed by South India's Tipu Sultan and it was taken away by the British to London after defeating him. Then they developed it further and successfully used it in the Waterloo and against the Americans.
Narrating how India was denied technology like the Super Computer, Dr Pillai said anyway, "the technology denied became technology gained" as India developed even faster computers and are now in a position to help others.
Dr. Pillai said the Chandrayan II will take an astronaut to Moon in 2018.
He pointed out that with space opening up huge business opportunities, hundreds of private enterprises have come up in India too, looking to the 120 billion market. He said there is a big market for Satellites now and many private players are willing to enter the market. In such a scenario, what is needed is a holistic, balanced space policy from the government, to help develop the sector and bag the international market.
He said experience and expertise themselves need not help get the international market, as shown by China who overstepped more experienced Russia to bag the second spot after the US.
NSAS Deputy Administrator Dova Newman said President "Obama has a plan for Mars 2030s and it is going very well, and within the budgets".
She said the US is planning to build up a Space Station by 2024 and invited India to be a partner in this ambitious project. She said that the Mars project is very huge and it is very difficult to do it by one country alone. "No one nation can do it," she said, explaining the three stages of the Mars project.
NASA Planetary Science Division Director James Green had no doubt that Mars is going to be a rich environment and destination for human exploration as the soil there is good for farming with moisture in soil.
Air Marshal (Retd) M Matheswaran, President of the Aerospace Business, Reliance Defence Ltd, said it is the right time to evolve a space policy, taking into account the external and internal dimensions. He said there has to be a right balance between the security concerns of the government and development challenges of this huge and highly competitive market.
Former ISRO official KR Sridhara Murthy, now Director of IIAEM University, Bangalore, stressed the need for keeping the right balance between the competitiveness and the sustainability and asked for the inclusion of all stakeholders - industry, NGOs, academia and the general public.
ORF Senior Fellow Dr Rajeswari Pillai Rajagoapalan, who conceptualised the three-day conference, underlined the need for the right political direction, which is lacking now, to avoid NPT like scenario. She said there is a need for coordinated efforts from the civilian and military sides and an active role in international rule framing exercises.
Dr. Sivathanu Pillai said the inputs of the conference would be placed before the Department of Space which will be coming up with a new policy soon. He also assured that there will be larger role for public private partnership (PPP) as is being done in NASA and other agencies.
US's Indian-origin astronaut Sunita Williams said she was happy seeing the enthusiasm among the youngsters in the country who aspire to be a role model like her.
US Ambassador Richard Verma said President Obama and PPM Modi have set a big challenge before us, committing to take the countries together to the new frontier. "Greater US-India space cooperation - across multiple segments of society - could inspire the next phase of Indo-American potential," the Ambassador said, reminiscing how he wanted to be an astronaut like Sunita Williams.
ORF Director Sunjoy Joshi pointed out that India is relatively small in the number of satellites it operates. Of 1305 satellites in operation, the US operates close to 549, China 142 and Russia 131 while India's number stands at mere 25.
He also pointed out that though India has been using satellite technology for several purposes, it is yet to build capabilities in respect of specialised gear for intelligence gathering, missile detection, reconnaissance and technological development and outer space. Among the seven major manufacturers of satellites, India does not even make the list, he said.
Joshi said there is a huge market for India to expand its space programme, and therefore limitations imposed by fund constraints can no longer be allowed to restrict our ambitions. So, it is here that there is a need for pro-active policies that encourage private sector investments in space exploration and satellite development.
Senior officials, experts, industry and academia from different countries participated in the three-day conference which had sessions on "State of play of the outer space regime", "Emerging threats in outer space", "regional and international cooperation - Realities, challenges and prospects", "Increasing private sector participation - what new space can make in India", "Derivatives from space: Mapping scope of downstream applications", "US-India collaboration and exploration", "Role of policy in Transponder availability for broadcasting broadband sector" and "Shaping the debate on India's national space policy".