BANGALORE, India — Traditional geopolitical adversaries India and China have agreed to cooperate “in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes,” the Indian government announced.

The memorandum of understanding was signed Sept. 18 in New Delhi by Koppillil Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, and Zhang Jianhua, vice administrator of China National Space Administration, in the presence Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The agreement “enables both sides to encourage exchange and cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes, including research and development of scientific experiment satellites, remote sensing satellites and communications satellites,” the press release said.

India and China signed a “framework agreement” a decade ago, but that did not progress beyond the sharing of Indian remote sensing data with China, K.R. Sridharamurthy, former chief executive of Antrix, ISRO’s commercial arm, told SpaceNews. He said China is now more open and it is possible for greater cooperation in areas like launch vehicles and human spaceflight. 

Sridharamurthy cautioned that “much depends on how much they are willing to share — the fine print is important.”  

China has already set up a regional organization called the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization in partnership with Pakistan, Bangladesh and a number of other countries. China also is helping to set up a space academy and satellite ground station in Sri Lanka, while Pakistan is expected to receive military grade positioning and navigation signals from China’s Beidou system.

Based in Bangalore, Killugudi S. Jayaraman holds a doctorate in nuclear physics from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He was formerly science editor of the...