India Calls on Global Community To Help Fund Space Training Center

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Insisting it cannot afford to continue as the sole sponsor of a United Nations-affiliated institute established to provide training in space science and technology to Asia-Pacific countries, India is making an international appeal for funds to keep the center open.

The Centre for Space Science and Technology, which was set up 10 years ago in the northern Indian town of Dehra Dun under a U.N. resolution, currently is funded almost entirely by India’s Department of Space at a cost of about $1.5 million annually. The Department of Space also makes facilities and staff available to the center free of charge.

Gopalan Madhavan Nair, secretary of the Department of Space, told the center’s board of governors and representatives of Asia-Pacific countries Nov. 8 that India alone cannot provide the funding needed to increase the level of center activities in coming years and called for international support. The meeting was held to mark the center’s 10-year anniversary.

Nair, the board’s chairman, called for the creation of a fund ” with contributions from international bodies, private organizations and other such foundations that have interest in space.” A transcript of Nair’s speech was provided to Space News.

He also called for voluntary contributions from all countries that signed the 1990 U.N. resolution that led to the center’s establishment.

“India agreed to host the center but expected other countries to share in the expenses,” former center director M.L. Deekshatalu said in a Nov. 11 interview. “But it is not happening.”

Nair alternatively suggested that the center could become part of the United Nations University or evolve into a separate academic institution offering graduate-level programs to students from all over the world. He said limiting admission to students from Asia-Pacific countries as mandated by the United Nations does not give the center “full credit for its expertise and capabilities.”

A core faculty for such an institution could be drawn from scientists with the Indian Space Research Organisation, foreign university professors on sabbatical leave and short-term contracts to help in specific research areas. “The details need to be worked out,” he said.

The center currently offers a nine-month post-graduate program that so far has trained more than 600 students in fields such as remote sensing and geographic information systems, satellite meteorology and satellite communications, Nair said.

The Dehra Dun Centre was the first of six centers that were to be created under a December 1990 U.N. resolution calling for the establishment of Centres for Space Science and Technology Education in developing countries. Three centers were established, one in India, one in Nigeria and one in Brazil.

“Our center has been running with the UN’s blessing … but the UN has not done much financially,” Deekshatalu said.