Few are convinced by the reasons Islamabad cited for opting out of this initiative
Shortly before 5 pm on Friday, the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (Isro’s) heaviest rocket, the Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), will blast off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota for the eleventh time. This time, the GSLV’s mission will be to place into orbit the so-called “South Asia Satellite”, a pure communications satellite called GSAT-9, which will provide linked communications to seven regional countries — the entire membership of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), less Pakistan. India is bearing the Rs 450 crore cost of the launch.
This project in high-technology regional diplomacy is backed by Isro’s stellar record in low-cost, high-success-rate space launches. In 2013, the agency won global plaudits for sending a low-cost orbiter named Mangalyaan to Mars, becoming the first country to succeed in doing so on its first attempt. In February, Isro’s workhorse, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket, which has launched 180 satellites so far without failure in 38th consecutive successful launches, established a world record by placing 104 satellites into orbit in a single launch.
Now Isro’s credentials are being exploited to build bridges across South Asia. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka will each have access to at least one of the South Asia Satellite’s 12 Ku-band transponders, and a communications backbone created for a secure hotline linking all these countries — a life-saving facility during emergencies and natural disasters. These neighbours will together benefit to the tune of Rs 10,000 crore ($1.5 billion) over the satellite’s 12-year lifespan. This is the first time a regional technological powerhouse has gifted a communications satellite to its neighbours. There are other consortia that jointly operate satellites, but those are all commercial, for-profit enterprises.(read more)