India, France agree to cooperate on secure access to outer space, space-based challenges

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SEOUL, South Korea — India and France have agreed to cooperate to tackle “contemporary challenges that have arisen in space,” including secure access to outer space.

The pledge was part of a broader set of economic and security agreements reached between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron during their May 4 summit in Paris.

“In order to address the contemporary challenges that have arisen in space, in particular maintaining secure access to space for all, India and France have agreed on setting up a bilateral strategic dialogue on space issues,” the two leaders said in a joint statement. “It will bring together experts from space and defense agencies, administration and specialized ecosystem to discuss security and economic challenges in outer space, the norms and principles applicable to space as well as unveil new areas of cooperation.” 

The two countries will hold the first round of the dialogue this year at the earliest, according to the statement.

Besides boosting space-related cooperation, the two sides have agreed to step up efforts to connect their startup ecosystems and bolster public-private engagement to work together. For its part, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has opened its labs, testing and quality facilities to private space companies since June 2020 to help grow India’s space industry.

The agreement came nearly one year after the two countries signed another space-related agreement in which France would cooperate for India’s first human spaceflight mission, named Gaganyaan. The deal was made at the request of ISRO, seeking France’s help to prepare for Gaganyaan’s uncrewed and crewed missions. The United States and Russia are also supporting the mission. 

Under the 2021 agreement, France’s space agency CNES is set to train India’s flight physicians and mission control teams, support a scientific experiment plan on validation missions, and exchange information on food packaging and spaceflight nutrition. CNES is also pledged to make French-made consumables and medical instruments available to Indian astronauts.

The Gaganyaan orbital spacecraft project kicked off in August 2018. It originally intended to send three astronauts to low Earth orbit from Indian soil by 2022 to celebrate the country’s 75th anniversary of independence. However, the mission has been delayed due to pandemic-induced lockdowns and supply chain disruption.

ISRO is planning to conduct a first uncrewed test flight next year, the Times of India reported late last month. The mission will involve a human-rated version of India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III rocket with a modified upper stage compatible with a crew module and crew escape system.