U.S., India To Collaborate on Mars Exploration, Earth Observation

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WASHINGTON — India and the United States will collaborate on a radar Earth observing satellite and in robotic Mars exploration, the latter activity beginning with two orbiters that recently arrived at the red planet, NASA and the White House announced Sept. 30.

Under one agreement, NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation will establish a working group that will meet yearly to examine activities including possible joint missions to Mars, NASA said in a press release. One of the group’s early objectives will be to explore coordinated observations between NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution probe and ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission, which arrived in Mars orbit Sept. 21 and 24, respectively, the U.S. space agency said.

The second agreement defines the roles and responsibilities for each side in the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar mission, which is targeted for a 2020 or 2021 launch, NASA said.

Both agreements were signed Sept. 30 by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan in Toronto in conjunction with the 65th International Astronautical Congress taking place there. The signings occurred on the same day that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, where they agreed to expand cooperative ties in a number of areas, including space, security, the environment, energy and technology, the White House said in a Sept. 30 statement.

The agreements continue a post-Cold War slog toward closer ties between the two countries that began very slowly but gained steam in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

The joint radar satellite, which has been under discussion at least since last year, will monitor changes to Earth’s surface in the L- and S-band frequencies, NASA said. ISRO will provide the spacecraft bus, launch vehicle and S-band radar, while NASA will supply the L-band radar, a high-data-rate communications system, GPS receivers and other hardware, NASA said.

The Joint Mars Working Group, meanwhile, will seek to identify and implement common goals in Mars exploration, NASA said. A logical early priority will be coordinating measurements between the newly arrived NASA and ISRO orbiters, the latter of which is designed for six months of observations.

“We have to discuss and work out the details,” Radhakrishnan said by telephone when asked for details about collaboration on Mars exploration.

V. Jayaraman, a senior scientist at ISRO headquarters in Bangalore, said the agreement “can lead to India’s participation in NASA’s future interplanetary ventures” now that ISRO has demonstrated its ability to put a spacecraft in Mars orbit.

NASA and ISRO previously collaborated on India’s first lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-1, which launched in 2008. NASA provided the miniature synthetic aperture radar and mineralogy mapping instrument for that mission.

“NASA and Indian scientists have a long history of collaboration in space science,” John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science, said in a prepared statement. “These new agreements between NASA and ISRO in Earth science and Mars exploration will significantly strengthen our ties and the science that we will be able to produce as a result.”

India and the United States also will continue to expand cooperation in other space activities including security and environmental monitoring, according to a fact sheet posted Sept. 30 by the U.S. State Department. The two sides will cooperate, for example, in the validation and calibration of data from ISRO’s Oceansat-2 ocean-color monitoring instrument and from the Indo-French Megha-Tropiques rainfall monitoring mission.

Finally, India and the United States will continue discussions to ensure compatibility between India’s regional satellite navigation system and the U.S. GPS system, and will establish a formal dialogue on space security, to include space situational awareness and orbital collision avoidance.

K.S. Jayaraman contributed to this article from Bangalore.