India-France space collaboration: A journey of six decades and beyond
The partnership between India and France has been characterized by shared ambitions and remarkable achievements
India and France have taken an important step towards reinforcing their longstanding partnership of nearly six decades through the Strategic Space Dialogue. The inaugural meeting was held in Paris on June 26, 2023, marking a new chapter in the Indo-French space collaboration.
The Indian delegation was led by Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra, while the French side was represented by Secretary-General, Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs Anne-Marie Descôtes. The dialogue aims to further strengthen the partnership that spans collaborations in technologies for satellite launches, research, operational applications, innovation, and NewSpace partnerships for deep space exploration.
ENDURING PARTNERSHIP, NUMEROUS MILESTONES
The Indo-French space partnership has a rich history dating back to 1964 when India’s space programme was in its nascent stage. It was then that India was experimenting with sounding rockets from Thumba in Kerala, and France became a key partner, leading to the transfer of the technology of the 'Centaure' rocket in 1965.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the French National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) have been at the forefront of this partnership. Their collaboration extends to various fields including space medicine, astronaut health monitoring, life support, radiation protection, space debris protection, and personal hygiene systems.
Earlier this month, CNES President Philippe Baptiste visited the ISRO headquarters in Bengaluru to explore potential areas of collaboration, share knowledge, and foster innovation in the field of space science and technology. During his talks with ISRO Chairman S Somanath, Baptiste emphasized the deep commitment of both space agencies to carry forward their collaboration and address the challenges and opportunities in the present space ecosystem.
One of the ambitious projects in the pipeline is the development of eight to ten satellites as part of a “constellation” for maritime surveillance. This will monitor sea-traffic management in the Indian Ocean, a strategic area of interest for both nations.
In April 2015, during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to France, joint stamps were released to commemorate the completion of 50 years of Cooperation in Space. This was a testament to the enduring partnership that has seen numerous milestones and achievements.
A program agreement for a reinforced cooperation in space activities was also signed during the visit. This program envisaged joint development of an earth observation satellite, cooperation in inter-planetary missions, and hosting of a French payload on an Indian satellite.
Following the signing of the agreement, an ISRO-CNES meeting was held in Ahmedabad on June 24, 2015. The two sides agreed on a broad configuration for a future joint Thermal Infra-red satellite mission. This mission is expected to further strengthen the ties between the two nations in the field of space technology.
Two other Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) on Space were signed during the Prime Minister's visit. These included the extension of the ISRO-CNES MoU on MeghaTropiques satellite for two years and an MoU between ISRO, CNES, and ONERA for a Ka-band propagation experiment over the Indian tropical region. The installation of the CNES instruments at Hassan (ISRO centre) has since been completed satisfactorily.
Earlier, ISRO and CNES had jointly developed the Satellite for ARGOS and ALTIKA (SARAL), carrying a radar altimeter and a data collection platform. Launched on-board ISRO's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in February 2013, SARAL, along with the MeghaTropiques satellite launched in late 2011, continues to provide useful data for atmosphere monitoring, environment monitoring, and ocean surface topography.
Under a commercial Launch Service Agreement between Antrix Corporation Limited and ASTRIUM SAS, an advanced Remote Sensing satellite - SPOT-7 built by ASTRIUM SAS was successfully launched on-board PSLV from India in June 2014. Arianespace, France has been the major provider of launch services to Indian Geo-Stationary satellites. As many as 19 Indian satellites have been launched by Arianespace on a commercial basis from Kourou in French Guiana.
Recognizing the importance of space cooperation between the countries, the Indian government felicitated Professor Jacques Blamont, one of the chief architects of this cooperation, with the Padma Shri Award in 2015. This recognition underscores the significance of the India-France space collaboration, a partnership that continues to reach for the stars.
As the space sector continues to evolve, the India-France Strategic Space Dialogue is set to play a crucial role in shaping the future of space exploration and technology.of such initiatives to drive sustainable and inclusive growth. Their shared vision of a free, open, and rules-based Indo-Pacific region is based on international law, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and freedom of navigation.