India will launch one Russian Glonass navigation satellite and build the platform for another under new agreements that mark a key step in a cooperative arrangement in space-based positioning that has been under discussion since 2004.

One agreement calls for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to launch a Glonass-M satellite about 18 months from now aboard a Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle. The second deal calls for India to supply the platform, or bus, for a Glonass-K-variant satellite, whose payload would be built by Russia, officials said. That bus would be delivered to Russia in about 30 months, according to S. Krishnamurthy, a spokesman for ISRO.

The deals were signed by ISRO Chairman Gopalan Madhavan Nair and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) Director General Anatoly Perminov March 17 in New Delhi. The occasion was the visit to India by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov March 15-17.

“By signing the agreements we are not becoming a full partner in Glonass but we are only trying to help the Russians re-establish their system,” a senior ISRO official who was involved in the negotiations told Space News March 22.

The official, who did not want to be named, said the agreements do not involve any exchange of funds. “We build the satellite with our own funds and launching is free. There is no commercial angle here,” he said.

As for what ISRO gets in return, he said: “We get to learn from them the various aspects of building a navigational satellite system.”

The Glonass system will be available to India for both civilian and military applications, the official said. He added, however, that the two sides ” have yet to negotiate the details” about the use of the Glonass system by India’s military.

According to Krishnamurthy, negotiations on an Indian role in Glonass formally began during a December 2004 visit to New Delhi by Russian President Vladimir Putin . Four months ago, during a visit by Indian Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Moscow, the two sides signed an agreement to protect intellectual property rights and technology used in the Glonass system.

The latest deals, while limited to just two satellites, could lead to an expanded Indian role in Glonass, officials said.

Russian authorities have made a priority of replenishing the Glonass fleet, which has degraded beyond utility in recent years due to a lack of funding. According to Russia’s Glonass Web site, the fleet currently consists of 13 operational satellites, whereas 21 to 24 satellites are needed to provide reliable global coverage.

During a visit to New Delhi in 2004, Perminov told reporters that a fleet of 18 satellites would provide navigation and positioning services in Russia and India to an accuracy of 1 meter.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, whose agency operates the Glonass system jointly with Roskosmos, told reporters in Moscow March 21 that enough satellites would be deployed in 2007 to provide full coverage of Russia. He said global coverage will be achieved in 2009.

Calls placed March 24 with the India desk at Roskosmos’ international cooperation department were not returned by press time.

Vyacheslav Davidenko, spokesman for Roskosmos , declined to comment on the deal.

Simon Saradzhyan contributed to this story from Moscow.