U.S.-India Space Cooperation Could Power Ties

U.S.-India Space Cooperation Could Power Ties

Space-based solar power (SBSP) may soon emerge as one of the leading sectors of strategic cooperation between India and the U.S., with a recently released report (.pdf) authored by U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Peter A. Garretson making the case for it being the next focus of the growing partnership. There are a number of reasons why SBSP may emerge as the hub for strategic industrial coordination between the two countries. First, neither country can meet its energy needs through existing clean-energy technologies, including nuclear power, and various technological advances over the past few decades have made space-based solar power a more realistic possibility. Second, the Obama administration wants to build on the foundations of bilateral relations laid by the Bush administration, and space cooperation presents an increasingly attractive option for doing so.

Neither SBSP nor the idea of an international partnership as an enabler for it is new. However, the U.S. only began to view India as a major potential partner in such an endeavor in the second half of the last decade. Not surprisingly, given the nature of U.S.-India relations, it was the U.S. private sector that first highlighted India as an important market for future SBSP development, given that a huge chunk of households in India are not yet connected to a conventional electrical grid. In 2007, an interim U.S. assessment of SBSP (.pdf) identified India as a key prospective partner for collaboration.

Over the same period, the Indian space program also moved beyond its traditional focus (.pdf) on remote-sensing satellites for developmental needs to more-ambitious programs, such as the Chandrayaan moon mission. India's 2008 moonshot eventually led to the independent discovery of the presence of water on the moon by American and Indian instruments carried on board. This success had a role in convincing U.S. space policymakers about Indian capabilities in integrating systems from varied sources, thereby boosting the prospects of synchronization of U.S. and Indian space architecture for a potential SBSP collaborative effort.

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