(L to R) R. Umamaheswaran, Scientific Secretary, ISRO and Dr Sam Dayal Dev, Director, ISRO Inertial Systems Unit at the press conference at India Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai on Sunday Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: India and the UAE will continue to have space collaborations in a stronger way, a senior scientist with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said at Expo 2020 Dubai on Sunday.

Discussions are on between the two countries on various collaborative projects, revealed R. Umamaheswaran, scientific secretary, ISRO.

What’s on the table?

In an interview to Gulf News after a press conference held as part of the ‘Space Week’ celebrations at the India Pavilion, the space scientist said: “There are discussions with respect to collaborative efforts such as ground stations or earth stations, exchanging of remote sensing data, etc. There is also a discussion in progress now on doing a joint experiment on collecting aerosol data in the upper atmosphere. There will be more collaborative efforts [between the two countries].”

UAE’s stellar missions

Congratulating the UAE Space Agency on the country’s milestone achievements in the recent past, he said: “We really appreciate and acknowledge the enthusiasm, the commitment and the passion that the UAE is showing in the space sector. They have sent astronauts to space and reached Mars in a short span of time. We are also proud of the UAE’s space achievements.”

Talking about India’s long-standing relationship with the UAE, he said: “I remember a few years back the UAE wanted one sounding rocket experiment to be done and we did it for them in Thiruvananthapuram [capital of the southern Kerala state in India].”

A sounding rocket is any unmanned rocket that is designed to probe atmospheric conditions and structure at heights beyond the reach of airplanes but impractical to explore by means of artificial satellites.

“The UAE appointing the former chairman of ISRO K. Radhakrishnan as an advisor to the Space Agency speaks a lot about our strong ties. We are proud that he served this country for a few years,” said Umamaheswaran.

Investment welcomed

He said India has welcomed UAE-based Indian companies to invest in its space programmes.

“The new FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] policy will make it an attractive scenario for foreign investors to invest in India. Definitely things are much brighter than in the past.”

Those in the private sector, especially Indian companies, have been invited to invest in the space sector for “Made in India” space projects. However, they should not be expecting return on investment in the immediate future as space projects take a long time to yield results, he pointed out.

“Some people have started making investments, but not in a big way like Elon Musk is doing. I need to find a person like Elon musk who can pump in so much into the space sector,” he said, laughing.

Expo 2020 Dubai is seen as a global platform for India to project its space sector and ISRO officials would be meeting their counterparts from the UAE and other countries during the Space Week, said Umamaheswaran.

Technology transfer, outreach programmes

He said ISRO currently has new policies that allow technology transfer through NSIL (New Space India Limited), the commercial arm of ISRO.

Highlighting the educational outreach programmes by ISRO, the senior scientist said international students including those from the UAE can join the initiatives like UNNATI (UNispace Nanosatellite Assembly and Training) that was launched by the ISRO chairman Dr K. Sivan. The capacity building training programme offers hands-on training for making small satellites.

First manned mission

Indian space scientists are now focused on the prestigious project Gaganyaan, India’s first manned mission to space, and the first unmanned launch for the same is slated to be held in the second quarter of 2022 after the delay due to the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, the ISRO space secretary said.

In the recent past, India has led various missions like putting 104 satellites into orbit in a single mission and successfully completing complex missions like the Mangalyaan at a fraction of the cost of similar missions led by other countries.

In line with these achievements, the Space Week at India Pavilion will hold sessions on Future of Space International-Participations and Collaborations; Space for start-ups: Infinite opportunities in space; Space 2030: Space for Sustainable Businesses; and Building Capacity and Research Opportunities.

Revising policies

Also on Sunday, India’s space chief said India is revising its existing policies and is also in the process of bringing in new ones to increase industry participation in the space sector.

Dr K. Sivan, Chairman, ISRO, and Secretary, Department of Space, was virtually addressing the inaugural session on ‘Future of Space – International Participations and Collaborations’ at the India Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

International collaboration

In his video message, Dr Sivan highlighted that space is one of the significant areas India is looking at for international cooperation. “I hope space cooperation will further strengthen with commercial and technological collaborations,” he said, adding that Indian industry has to play a big role in the space sector globally.

Sector reforms

Highlighting the reforms in the sector, Dr Sivan said that the government is open to inviting private players in the space sector and ISRO is tying up with start-ups and industries. “India is focussing on international collaborations, including bilateral and multilateral partnerships.”

Dr Sivan also appreciated the Indo-UAE engagement in space and collaborations with ISRO in space applications.

He said that the Indian industry would play a big role in the space sector as involvement of start-ups increases in future. He also emphasised on the need to make outer space safe and that “it’s a collective responsibility of the government and non-government agencies to ensure that. ISRO will be supportive of all international collaborations which benefit humanity”.

Launching more missions

Delivering the keynote address virtually, Dr Pawan Goenka, chairman, Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) said that India aspires to launch a dozen missions every year, compared to four or five currently.

He also added that the country is working on Reusable Launch Vehicle and advanced applications. “India will also offer private services to other countries and cooperate with international agencies to develop innovative missions with cost-effective and agile launch vehicles. It’s a new India that is emerging in the space sector,” Dr Goenka said.