Monday, March 14, 2016

Why NASA collaborating with ISRO could be a good idea ..

Collaboration is always welcome ..
Space is an expanse not for all countries of the world to play around. Only very few deserving and scientifically advanced countries of the world have been able to make it beyond the confines of the earth's gravitational attraction.

Adding to this is the technical capability of some nations to launch satellites for other less scientifically developed countries of the world to low earth orbits.

Earlier NASA-ISRO collaboration on NISAR,  detected water on lunar surface, (in spite of numerous Apollo Missions to lunar surface). NASA had to be handheld by India to jointly discover water on lunar surface.

There are different reasons, some very clear and some clandestine, this time around, on why NASA after getting ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) to launch four private US micro satellites (< 100 kg) successfully through ISRO in 2015 is again depending on India to do the honours for NASA a second time, this time with 12 satellites.

NASA has not yet publicly recognised India's potential threat as a low cost innovator in the space race .. Low cost launches offers ISRO great advantages, it can for instance, undertake ten MARS missions for every one that NASA undertakes, (given that Mangalyaan cost just $75 million compared to Maven costing $670 million) or it can launch 10 satellites for every one NASA launches.

India has so far launched 57 satellites for 21 countries of the world. The biggest individual customer is no doubt NASA, for whom 16 satellites would have been launched using ISRO rockets by the year end of 2016.

The reasons why NASA gets ISRO to launch NASA's small satellites are the following. (the satellites are small, < 100 kgs, and can ISRO match with NASA on pioneering space missions to outside the solar system like the Pioneer, Voyager etc. ? ).. Given that NASA' initial lunar missions in late '60s are still under a shadow, the world is very much sceptical of US' tall claims..

Let us not forget that every great journey starts with a small step. With ESA being the only credible challenger to India in outer space, that day is not far when India will call the final shots !

The Journey of a thousand miles begins with one step - Lao Tzu

The collaboration between NASA and ISRO is beneficial to both countries and the world, let us list some of them..

1. NASA is too busy with bigger missions like reaching the outer confines of the solar system that it considers launching to be so silly and wants to outsource it to ISRO

2. ISRO has launched four satellites last year successfully and so NASA can depend on ISRO as a reliable launch service provider to launch satellites to low earth orbits

3. NASA cannot launch satellites at the cheap rates which ISRO is offering for reliable, accurate launches of low earth orbit satellites.

4. NASA wants to understand and replicate how ISRO is able to launch satellites with great precision, accurately to low earth orbits at very low rates - to understand how ISRO's low cost innovation works..

5. NASA would like to know what is the future direction ISRO will take, is it planning to reach out to the outer confines of the solar system, an association will always help NASA kep track of Indian developments and restrain them , when need be.

6. By knowing Indian capabilities and weaknesses, NASA can plan to thwart India from the space race in future.

7. ISRO can learn from the NASA level of preparedness, experimentation, and extent of deep space exploration plans.

8. India can try to get some of the brilliant minds powering the NASA space programme back to India if we also can offer great challenging opportunities to them.

9. US' can help a friendly country earn additional revenue by launching satellites for other countries

Many may scoff at the statement that ISRO could indeed be a great challenge to NASA and of India's standing as a low cost innovator in the space race, but ten years hence, space equations will be rewritten, as to who will lead the space race then, ISRO or NASA ? India has slowly started flexing its muscles and spreading its dreams outside the solar system ..

Considering how US space missions costs are galloping, (the reason why they had to abandon the Apollo and Space Shuttle Missions), in ten years it may so happen that NASA may not even exist in the space mission exercise .. in all likelihood it would have been wiped out and would still be a force to reckon with only in the entertainment field, helping shooting high budget films like Gravity etc in space for entertainment ..

It may also be possible that by then, the futility or otherwise, of space missions would have been established. That may be the reason why China, the present global economic super power does not think it worthy of space explorations, and has not even crossed the moon !

Get a downloadable version of this case with questions to enable classroom discussion .. ( Alliance University Bangalore may be the first University in the world to discuss the strategic impact of NASA-ISRO collaboration..)


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