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Chandrayaan Success Puts Middle East in India’s Aerospace Orbit

The success of Chandrayaan mission has put India in the frontline of countries preferred for space technology push in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. While there were already some agreements signed with countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia to help them develop the space industry, there is a buzz that more countries are showing interest in space research collaboration with India.

Interestingly, ISRO’s success in initiating an inexpensive yet successful space programme has made different Middle Eastern countries take note of India. According to ISRO’s official website, it has successfully launched 124 satellites including the indigenous Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan missions – India’s lunar probe and Mars orbiter missions. The success of these initiatives has triggered the interest of different countries who wish to gain from India’s experience in the spatial domain.

Since most of the MENA countries have nascent space programmes at the moment, India can share its wider expertise with these states and cooperate on issues concerning space and outer space without securitising the domain. India could provide its launch vehicles for indigenous satellite launches in consortium with ISRO and Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center (IN-SPACe) – the commercial arm of ISRO. This could be a profitable deal for the ISRO-INSPACe, as further deals will entail further commercialization of the Indian space sector – propelling India’s continued rise as a space power.

Similarly, the Indian private sector in space can also share its expertise with their Middle Eastern counterparts – enabling the creation of an ecosystem that embeds India and MENA countries into global supply chains in the space sector. A precedent has already been set by a Chennai-based aerospace and defence parts start-up, which signed a deal with the UAE to supply structural components for making payloads and satellite casings for rockets.

Anuttama Banerjee, a Delhi-based space technology expert, says that India is well-poised to extend its space technology to help states in regions like MENA to enhance their military capabilities and in the process may eye commercial benefits. “With the militarisation of the space sector becoming a potential reality, India can collaborate with like-minded states in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to jointly work on satellites to build their intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities – thereby giving a new strategic pivot to ties in the domain of space,” she said.

Israel is a leading Middle East country with its own well-developed space programme and eyes to enhance it further. It has multiple collaboration pacts with India, including jointly developing new-age space technology. India has recently sent a couple of Israeli satellites into space, including those for monitoring and reconnaissance. India and Israel together launched an electric propulsion system (EPS) and a geosynchronous earth orbit-low orbit link in 2022. India had earlier used Israeli technology for RISAT-2, a radar-imaging satellite that boosted India’s defence capabilities.

India also has an agreement with Tunisia to “explore outer space for peaceful purposes.” According to the Indian government, “The agreement will enable cooperation in space science, technology, and applications in areas such as remote sensing of the earth; satellite communication and satellite-based navigation; and space science and planetary exploration.” Kuwait too has expressed its interest in finding convergence with India in space. The Kuwaiti ambassador to India, Jasem Al Najem, has spoken about possible partnerships with India in the space sector. He praised India for its extensive expertise in space, calling it “one of the world’s five most technologically advanced nations in the space sector.”