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Soviet Space Cooperation

Soviet Attitude Toward International Cooperation in Space *

* Prepared by Joseph G. Whelan, Senior Specialist in International Affairs, Senior Specialists Division, CRS.







Expanding space relations with France opened up potential opportunities for the Soviets to influence the French politically, particularly in seeking the much cherished Soviet foreign policy goal of dividing the West. In the case of India, space cooperation was to play a similarly unique political role, that of an instrument for expanding Soviet political influence in this leading country of the Third World, and thus furthering its larger purpose of linking the Third World to the Soviet Union's expected global destiny. (45)

By the mid-1970's, India had given ample evidence of its commitment to space exploration. From its modest beginning in 1961, it had developed, mainly with the assistance of the United States, the Soviet Union, and France, a respectable infrastructure for space exploration. With the fourth largest pool of scientific manpower in the world, India had the brainpower to master the complexities of building a space program. (46) By 1979, it could boast that over 6,000 scientists, engineers, and technicians were employed at such space centers as the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERIS) and the launching site at Sriharikota; and at those centers devoted to research, such as, the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC) at Trivandrum, the Space Applications Center (SAC) at Ahmedabad, the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) of the Department of Science and Technology, and the Experimental Satellite Communication Earth Station (ESCES) at Ahmedabad. (47)

India's NASA is the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). From its beginning, according to P. Nandakumar, an observer of Indian space activities, India has had two basic objectives in its space policy:

* * * to build up indigenous capability in all aspects of space technology, applications and research, and to utilize the expertise so gained for the good of the country and for the benefit of its people. (48)

To achieve its goals, India, as the potential space power of the Third World, has had to draw upon the available resources of the world's leading space powers. It has, therefore, pursued a course of diversity in the search for space partners. In the process the United States made great contributions to the Indian space effort, particularly in such areas as communications, remote sensing, meteorology; and these contributions have been gratefully acknowledged.49 But India also looked to Moscow for assistance, and the Soviet leaders have obliged. (50)


India's satellites, Aryabhata and Bhaskara

The Soviet Union has been a major contributor to India's space effort. Foremost in this effort was Soviet technical assistance in building and in actually launching India's satellites, Aryabhata and Bhaskara.

On April 19, 1975, the Soviet Union launched India's first satellite Aryabhata. Designed purely for scientific experiments, the satellite was built by India, but the Soviets provided technical assistance and components such as solar cells, batteries, thermal paints, and tape recorders. Though the satellite was expected to perform solar and atmospheric studies for 6 months, the experiments had to be closed down after 5 days due to a power supply problem. (51)

By the terms of an agreement between ISRO and the Soviet Academy of Sciences, a second satellite in this series, Satellite for Earth Observation (SEO), called Bhaskara, was launched in the Soviet Union on June 7, 1979. The primary task of this satellite was to assess India's natural resources and conduct meteorological studies. Bhaskara used television cameras and microwave radiometer equipment designed and developed in India. According to Soviet sources, the satellite was built with Soviet scientific and technical assistance; Indian scientists took part in the launching pad tests of the satellite. (52) The first camera shots from aboard Bhaskara were received on May 17, 1980 at the Indian space research center in Bangalore.

The Soviet Union offered to launch India's Bhaskara 2 and 3, scheduled for mid-1981 and 1984 respectively. No charge is made for the launches. In return India pledges to share all the data it gathers from the satellites. (53)

 Other aspects of Soviet cooperation summarized

 Scattered throughout the sources on Indian space activities were the following references to other aspects of Soviet cooperation:

Under an agreement with the Soviet Union's meteorological service, one M-100 rocket has been fired weekly, apparently since 1970, from the TERIS range for meteorological studies as part of a global program. (54)

The Soviet Union and other members of Interkosmos, such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and the GDR, have provided the tracking coverage, laser equipment and their accessories for setting up the Satellite Tracking and Ranging Station (STARS) at Kavalur, Tamil Nadu. (55)

In 1979, India cooperated with the Soviet Union in the Monsoon Experiment (Monex II); India received lunar samples from the Soviet Union for analysis by its scientists; and an Indo-Soviet joint balloon experiment in gamma ray astronomy was scheduled for the end of 1979. (56)

In setting up TERIS, the Soviet Union's meteorological service along with NASA and CNES, provided support in the form of the equipment. (57)

Work on a multichannel tropospheric communications link between the Soviet Union and India entered its final stage in June 1980; under construction by Soviet and Indian scientists and specialists, the link was expected to become operational around November 1980; the Soviet Union provided the necessary radio and technical equipment for the station at Chari-iSherf in India.88 Finally, India accepted the Soviet invitation to nominate two candidates for cosmonaut training in preparation for a joint space flight in 1983. (59)


Soviet contributions to India's success in space

That space cooperation with the Soviet Union has paid off and accordingly has enabled India to pursue its space policy with some measure of success, there seems to be little doubt. Also aided substantially by the United States and the European space powers and, moreover, drawing upon its own formidable resources in scientific and technical manpower, India has indeed achieved much success in space, doing so, as one space observer put it, "on a shoestring." (60) Having been "fortunate to have excellent cooperation" with the world's space powers, as K. S. Jayaraman, an Indian space specialist, wrote, India, in his estimation, "has almost reached the stage of self-sufficiency in space technology," (61) an established goal in its space policy. India has wisely emphasized the practical side of space applications, and accordingly has gained much from its efforts. Perhaps Jayaraman best summed up the importance of India's achievements internationally when he concluded:

India has come a long way since it fired a toy rocket 15 years ago. Its experience is a lesson to other developing nations that space research need not be very expensive and that it can play a key role in economic and rural development. (62)

Or as Mohan Sundara Rajan, another India space observer, said in commenting on the "keen interest" of Third World countries in the coming Second United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in 1982:

What is wanted by the developing countries is basically an opportunity. India's young engineers have proved that given the opportunity, it is possible to leap-frog into the Space Age even from bullock carts. As for cost, the entire investment from the early sixties, is less than the price of eight or ten jumbo jets. (63)

Thus the Soviets deserve some credit for their contributions to the Indian space effort; for the record of Soviet-Indian space cooperation suggests that there is some truth in the statement by Nikolay Novikov, deputy chairman of the Interkosmos Council, Soviet Academy of Sciences, when he said, in the words of Tass, "The decade of Soviet-Indian cooperation in space . . . has been rich in important developments." (64)

Soviet political motives in space cooperation

But Soviet motives have not been so wholly altruistic as they appear in their pronouncements on space cooperation with India. As noted at the beginning of this section, the Soviet Union pursues a much larger policy in the Third World, one designed to establish a symbiotic relationship between itself and the Third World and to foster accordingly the false idea of a shared political destiny. Since the mid-1950's, India has been the centerpiece of this policy, and space cooperation has been an integral part of it.

In pursuit of India's interests

Still, India has seemed thus far to have successfully kept something of a balance, not always a delicate one, in its commitment to nonalignment between East and West. Perceiving its own interests and pursuing its foreign policy accordingly, India has, for example, resisted Soviet pressures to conclude a security pact with Russia against China, a long time Soviet goal. And despite Soviet largesse in military and economic assistance, India has pursued its own interests and its own course in foreign policy, and indeed in space policy, seeming to establish a prudent mixture of independence, diversity, and cooperation. (65)



43. Ibid.

44. Terry, Sara. NASA Must Find $25 Million in the Next Few Months If It Wants to Loft Eveo Scaled-Down Missions in 1985. The Christian Science Monitor, June 24, 1981, p. 1. It is important to note that the United States wanted to put experiments on ESA's Halley's mission, but ESA refused.

45. For an extensive commentary on Soviet policy in the Third World, see. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Soviet Third World Policy and U.S. Response, ch. 2.

46. Mama, H. P. India's Space Program: Across the Board on a Shoestring. Interavia, vol. 35, January 1980: 60.

47. Nandakllmar' p- SPace Research in India. Indian & Foreign Review, vol. 15, Nov. 1, 1977:15-20, and House Science and Technology Committee, World-Wide Space Activities, 1977, p 119. For other discussions of India's space organization, see, Jayaraman, K. S. India's March into Space. Indian & Foreign Review, vol. 16, Mar. 1, 1979:15-19, and Jayaraman, K S The Launching of Rohim Satellite: India Set for Further Advance in Space. Indian & Foreign Review, vol. 17, Aug. 14, 1980, pp. 9-11.

48. Nandakumar, Space Research in India, p. 15.

49. Perhaps one of the most important successes in U.S.-Indian space cooperation was the experimental program using the ATS-6 satellite for broadcasting television programs to some 5,000 Indian villages. Congressional hearings during 1976-80 contain repeated references, stressing the value to India and the general success of the program. In reviewing NASA's international program milestones for 1975, Arnold Frutkin referred to this experiment as "another land mark. Frutkin had visited many of the villages to observe the program in action. "It is an extraordinarily successful program with enormous implications of a complex kind," he said. Attendance at schools served by receivers had gone up some 30 percent; the enthusiasm of the villagers has continued "very high"—there was no "falling off and no indication that there is a novelty syndrome here." (House Science and Technology Committee, Hearings, 1977 NASA Authorization, 1976, vol. 1, pt. 2, p. 647.)

In his report the following year, Frutkin said that a systematic socio-economic evaluation of the batellite Instructional Television Experiment program (SITE) which used the NASA ATS-6 satellite was not yet complete, "but preliminary findings appear most positive. The villages clearly want continuing service, and it appears there have been beneficial impacts on school attendance and progress, village health, farmer income, even the birth rate." Success of the program, he noted, had led the Indian Government to make interium provision for TV service to some 12,000 villages through ground relay stations. (The Indians built, designed, developed, manufactured, distributed and maintained the village receivers and prepared all the program material on farm improvement, family planning, village hygiene and school education.) "More important, Frutkin reported, "India is taking steps now to establish a follow-on domestic satellite system to operate in 1980." India began discussions with American firms and NASA for the potential purchase of the necessary spacecraft and launching services. (House Science and Technology Committee, Hearings, 1978 NASA Authorization, 1977, vol 1 pt 3 p 72 )

In 1978, Mr. Norman Terrell, Director of International Affairs, NASA, reported that the SITE experiment was a success and the Indian report shows that from the viewpoint of social and educational benefits there were important values in the experiment." Because of the experiment s success, the Indian Government, he said, decided to establish its own domestic communications satellite system. "They have contracted to launch it aboard the Shuttle in 1981," he said and the satellite will most likely be procured from a U.S. contractor." Senate Commerce Science, and Transportation Committee, Hearings, NASA Authorization for Fiscal Year 1979 1978 pt. 3, pp.928 and 950-951.

Landsat was another program that was well received in India. As P. Nandakumar, the Indian space specialist, wrote, "The Landsat imageries supplied by the U.S.A. are of great use to us "(Nandakumar, Space Research in India, p. 20.) Congressional hearings during the period under review record numerous instances of Landsat's success.

50. In a/eview of Soviet-Indian space cooperation, Mikhail Chernyshov '"rote of India's appreciation: Indian scientists and specialists highly appreciate the scientil.^ and technical assistance rendered by the Soviet Union, which, unlike some other countries, helps them accumulate this experience; (Chernyshov, Mikhail. Russian Report: Future Joint Soviet-Indian Space Adventure. Space World, May 1980, p. 23.)

51. House Science and Technology Committee, World-Wide Space Activities, 1977, pp. 119-120, and Velupillai, David. ISRO: India's Ambitious Space Agency. Flight International, vol. 117, June 28, 1980, p. 1466.

52. Facts and Figures: Soviet Achievements in Space Exploration. International Affairs, vol. 7, July 1980:135-136. An Indian source noted that both satellites used "Soviet Union-supplied solar panels, batteries and thermal paints, but were otherwise almost completely of Indian manufacture."

53. Velupillai, ISRO: India's Ambitious Space Agency, p. 1466.

54. Nandakumar, Space Research in India, p. 20.

55. Ibid.


57. Jayaraman, India's March into Space, p. 19.

58. Moscow Tass Internatio/nal Service in Russian, 1732 GMT, June 9, 1980, in FBIS Daily Report: Soviet Union, vol. 3, June 10, 1980, p. D7.

59. Shirokov, V. Preparing for Flights. Pravda ( Moscow), Oct. 9, 1981, p. 1, in FBIS Daily Report: Soviet Union, vol. 3, Oct. 15, 1981, p. Dl.

60. Mama, India's Space Program, p. 60.

61. Jayaraman, India Set for Further Advance in Space, p. 11.

62. " Jayaraman, India's March into Space, p. 9. See also the concluding paragraph in Velupillai's article in which he stated that India's space program was "beginning to blossom and will soon bear fruit . . . gradually at first, but soon reaching the point where weather satellite pictures, unproved communications and better resource management are commonplace." (Velupillai, ISRO: India's Ambitious Space Agency, p. 1470.)

63. Rajan, Mohan Sundara. India in Space. India News, vol. 19, Sept. 29, 1980:4.

64. Moscow Tass in English, 1029 GMT, June 11, 1980, in FBIS Daily Report: Soviet Union, vol. 3, June 12, 1980, p. D2.

65. The depth and degree of the Soviet commitment to India are apparent in the economic aid and military assistance given to India over the years. During 1954-78, the Soviet Union extended a total of $2,282 million in economic credits and grants to India. For the same period the countries of Eastern Europe extended $455 million. During 1973-77, the value of Soviet arms transfers to India alone was placed at $1,100 million; arms transfers from Czechoslovakia were valued at $10 million, and from Poland $40 million. During 1955-78, 2,200 Indian military personnel were trained in the Soviet Union. In May 1980, the Soviet Union agreed to sell India $1.6 billion in weapons, the largest arms agreement ever concluded between the two countries.

(House Foreign Affairs Committee, Soviet Policy and United States Response in Third World, p. 82.)

An example of Indian resistance to Soviet pressure is seen in the concluding comment by The Economist of June 16, 1979, in an article on Soviet-Indian relations in light of the visit of India's Prime Minister Morarji Desai to Moscow; " Russia is extremely keen to strengthen its links with India by offering sophisticated technology in strategic fields. Apart from the proposal for a joint manned space flight, it has offered nuclear submarines and a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power station. India has politely turned down these handsome gestures. What India does need is industry and an agreement for Soviet technical and financial aid for a $3 billion steel plant at Vishakapatnam was signed during Mr. Desai's visit to Moscow" (p. 51).

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