US President Joe Biden welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House on Wednesday, June 21, to discuss an array of pertinent topics, ranging from defence collaborations and tech partnerships to Ukrainian reconstruction aid. However, the focal point of the dialogue was announced during the press conference on Thursday, June 22, when it was revealed that India would become the latest nation to sign the Artemis Accords.
This global agreement outlines the guidelines for peaceful cooperation in the exploration and use of the Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies. India’s decision is seen as a significant advance in space collaboration between the two nations. Modi’s aspirational statement, “In fact, in short, for the India-America partnership, not even the sky is the limit,” underscores the grand scale of this partnership.
With a scheduled meeting on June 23 with US Vice President Kamala Harris, who heads the National Space Council, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, this could herald the commencement of a new era of global space cooperation.
According to a White House communiqué, further space-related collaborative efforts were also agreed upon. This includes advanced astronaut training by NASA for members of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), with the goal of launching a joint mission to the International Space Station (ISS). By signing the Artemis Accords, India became the 27th nation to join this cooperative framework, hot on the heels of Ecuador.
India’s space ambitions are gradually earning global recognition. Despite the notable lead of the dominant players such as the US and China, India has made remarkable strides in space exploration. India’s ongoing endeavours, such as frequent domestic carrier system launches, demonstrate its escalating capabilities.
One of India’s significant upcoming projects is the launch of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk III) rocket, which will carry the Chandrayaan-3 lunar probe with a new lander. The launch is scheduled for July this year.
The US views India as a potential counterbalance to China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region, giving it a strategic significance in the current geopolitical climate. India’s involvement in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or QUAD, underlines the nation’s role in maintaining the US influence in the region.
Further augmenting the US-India collaboration is the ongoing development of the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) program. This initiative focuses on a satellite equipped with synthetic radar that will function in the L and S bands, offering disaster warnings and providing vital intel with SAR aperture. The satellite will also have payloads provided by NASA for GPS services and satellite communication. As per the White House communiqué, NISAR is set for a 2024 launch.
India’s decision to sign the Artemis Accords bolsters the US’s standing in the global space race, particularly against its main competitor, China. However, it’s worth noting India’s geopolitical agility, maintaining relationships with multiple global powers such as Russia, from which it purchases military technology. Both the US and India find a common strategic concern in China, though this partnership is likely borne more out of geopolitical pragmatism than shared values or a unified vision for space exploration.