It is deplorable that critical footnotes are tagged on to the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro)’s success story every time it writes a remarkable new chapter. The space agency’s launch of the Israeli satellite, Tecsar, into a difficult orbit last Monday seems to have come under sharp attack from Left parties who seek an explanation from the government on “the scope of this space cooperation”. Isro’s flagship launcher, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), lofted the Tecsar into orbit from Sriharikota. Although the Tecsar’s payload profile was reportedly kept under wraps at Tel Aviv’s request, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a reconnaissance satellite like this offers outstanding capabilities of intelligence gathering. Its on-board radar technology obviously gives Tecsar the ability to capture images under all weather conditions, night and day. And Israel will probably use the satellite to spy on the secretive Iranians from space, keeping an eye on Tehran’s nuclear activities and potential missile launches.
Political concerns about the launch costing India goodwill in the Arab world are misplaced in a market-driven world where no space agency can afford to specify or limit the use of a satellite it agrees to launch. Today, Iranian and Malaysian astronauts fly in space on board US and Russian spacecraft. The European Space Agency launches satellites from various countries. And even Russian boosters launch US satellites from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. No questions asked.
So Isro should not let political pressure come in the way of helping itself to its rightful slice of the $ 3 billion global commercial satellite launch services market. Competition in the satellite launch market is hotting up, as the recent formation of a space consortium by China that includes every country in India’s neighbourhood — excluding India — proves. The fact that Israel chose Isro over US, Russian, and Chinese space agencies attests to the PSLV’s impeccable record. It has had a string of 11 glitch-free flights so far that launched eight foreign payloads — two of them commercial launches, including the Italian astronomical satellite AGILE, put into orbit last April. So Leftists’ time would be better spent cheering Isro’s commercial ventures than criticising it.