During India’s PM Narendra Modi’s visit to the US, NASA announced that it would provide advanced training to Indian astronauts at one of its facilities in Houston. This may allow them to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) as a joint mission before their Gaganyaan, or the first human spaceflight, mission in 2024. The mission could also help train them to prepare for other big-ticket projects, including a future Indian space station.
According to a statement released by the White House, the American administration will work with ISRO and other agencies in India to develop new technologies, improve existing ones, enhance bilateral cooperation, and promote new commercial opportunities. The two nations will also cooperate on new technologies, including artificial intelligence, robotics, earth science, remote sensing, and other areas.
The two nations will also enhance cooperation between private companies operating in the space economy of both countries. The statement says that both sides will work to address export controls on space-related equipment and technology to allow greater freedom of movement for private-sector companies. This marks a shift from when the United States and other Western nations imposed strict controls on space-related goods sent to India.
This will open up opportunities for US companies to invest in India’s emerging space industry and collaborate with ISRO on future missions, mainly to Mars and beyond. It will also free up ISRO’s resources to focus on these more extensive scientific expeditions and build the industrial ecosystem needed to execute them.
ISRO has already started several commercial partnerships in the space sector, with initiatives to support startups and give them access to its facilities. These include Skyroot Aerospace, which conducted a successful suborbital launch of its Vikram-S rocket in November from India’s main spaceport, and Pixxel, which is developing a constellation of hyperspectral imaging satellites.
While most of these companies are relatively new, they will benefit from the close ties with ISRO forged over decades of bilateral cooperation. They will be able to tap into ISRO’s expertise in areas such as propulsion, crew transport vehicles, and satellite design.
Biden also praised India’s “extraordinary scientific and technological accomplishments,” adding that the world needs to continue pushing boundaries in all fields of endeavor, from agriculture and energy to health and education. “India and the United States are collaborating in nearly every human endeavor in delivering progress across the board,” he said.
The two nations also work together in other areas, such as mineral security, focusing on India’s membership in the Global Mining Partnership. The US is partnering with India to establish a semiconductor ecosystem that encourages diversity in the supply chain and is helping the country strengthen its capabilities to explore critical minerals. They also collaborate on satellite-based monitoring of global ecosystems, dynamic surfaces, and ice sheet collapses. In this regard, ISRO and NASA are developing the world’s most expensive earth observation satellite, the $1.5 billion NISAR project.