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India-US set up space cooperation mechanism

Economic Times:  February, 2016

New Delhi: A bilateral mechanism for sharing information for tracking movements of satellites, avoiding collisions and identifying potential threats to space and ground assets has been set up by Delhi and Washington as part of their growing space partnership. 

Indian and American delegations met here last week for exploring an arrangement for Space Situational Awareness (SSA) - a programme for monitoring space environment and track potential hazards and security threats. It is also understood that a bilateral mechanism for sharing data from each other's satellites for Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) was also discussed by two sides. 

"One potential area we are continuing to look at is cooperation on SSA and collision avoidance," Frank A. Rose, Assistant Secretary in charge of Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance in US State Department, said at a conference here. He led the US delegation in the second Space Security Dialogue with India. 

Rose said that the SSA programme could enable a more comprehensive picture of developments in space and ensure the safety, sustainability, stability, and security of the space environment. The SSA's space weather aspect includes monitoring the sun, solar wind, and magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere of earth to assess effects on space or and ground assets or and implications on human health. The programme has another component for monitoring near-earth objects like asteroids and comets besides Space Surveillance and Tracking. 

"We see opportunities for cooperation on SSA with other governments and nongovernmental space operators around the globe; this includes India," Rose said, while delivering a lecture at the Observer Research Foundation. 

Washington has so far inked 12 SSA sharing mechanisms with other countries and international intergovernmental organizations, and 51 with commercial entities. Global partnership on SSA bring "resources, capabilities, and geographical advantages" according to the American administration. 

Amid China's maritime ambitions America and India might cooperate to conduct surveillance on the sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean Region and Asia-Pacific regions. As 13 of India's active satellites were in low-earth orbits, those could support American space assets for monitoring sea lanes. 

Delhi is setting up a state-of-the-art Data Reception, Tracking and Telemetry Station at Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Once activated this will be linked with another existing Indian facility at Biak in Indonesia. Both these facilities will give India strategic edge in the South China Sea region where China has launched an aggressive strategy to create artificial islands and place military installations there. India also has a satellite tracking station in Brunei and Delhi is keen to set up a similar facility in Fiji and make it a hub for sharing its space technology with the Pacific Island nations.