Russia-India Space Cooperation The Sky is Not the Limit


"In the near future, we should arrive at a new strategic vision of bilateral cooperation in important high-tech areas like in the field of nuclear energy, in the study and exploration of outer space, and in the aviation industry, including the joint development of multi-role transport aircraft and a fifth generation fighter jet." These comments made by Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Dimitry Rogozin in an interview to Russian news agency ITAR-TASS at the end of his two-day official India visit points to the keenness to diversify areas of bilateral cooperation. Dr Nivedita Das Kundu highlights the cooperation taking place between India and Russia in one such area – the space sector – and focusses on the strategic and commercial aspects of this cooperation

The Russia-India relationship has evolved into an equal partnership. Even after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, both India and Russia continued their cooperation and friendship in the same way as during the Soviet period. The two countries share the goal of creating a multi-polar world. India values the political and diplomatic support it continues to get from Russia on vital issues. In today’s complicated and dynamic geopolitical situation, both countries have wisely diversified their foreign policy options, yet have been careful not to abandon a mutually beneficial partnership of trust built up over decades. Clearly, India-Russia cooperation is rising steadily in various sectors including science and technology. Both countries are collaborating with each other in various important fields including the space sector.

Significant Space Cooperation

Cooperation in the space sector between Russia and India shows how a developed and an emerging space power could work together and lead to the successful realisation of various space technologies related endeavours. It is noteworthy to mention that India’s first satellite, Aryabhatta, was launched on April 19, 1975 from a Soviet launch site (Kapustin Yar range) on a Soviet Kosmos-3M rocket. The second satellite Bhaskara 1 for Earth observation was also launched from Kapustin Yar in 1979, followed by Bhaskara 2 in 1981. During the year 1977, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was helped by the Soviet Union to build an experimental laser based optical1. Indo-Soviet cooperation enabled Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma, India’s first and only cosmonaut, to visit space on board Soyuz T-10 in the year 1984.

Continuation in Space Cooperation

By the beginning of the 21st century, India overcame various setbacks caused by international ambiguity on technology transfer policies and demonstrated that its ‘space rendezvous’ could have been delayed but could not be derailed. Therefore, important collaborations in the space arena continued even in recent times. Rather, India-Russia space cooperation gained more vigour in the post-Cold War period with the signing of an agreement between ISRO and Russian Space Agency in 1994, which received a further boost with an umbrella agreement signed at the government level in 2004. The major thrust in this field included the collaboration for GLONASS (Global’naya Navigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema), Global Navigation Satellite System, project Youth Satellite and participation in Chandrayaan 2, India’s moon mission.


Russia and India reached an agreement about access to the navigation signal of GLONASS for peaceful purposes, which enabled India to become part of the GLONASS Radio Frequency Spectrum. The agreement promotes the joint use of GLONASS.

Developed in 1976, the first GLONASS satellite was launched into orbit in 1982, even though the system became operational only by 1995. This satellite constellation is the Russian version of the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and the European Galileo system. It is designed for both military and civilian purposes, and allows users to identify their positions in real time. It can also be used in geological prospecting, air traffic control, mobile telephony, and sensor technology and police surveillance. These satellites operate in circular orbits (19,100 km above ground) and offer accuracy for civilian users up to 30 meters.

India’s interests with GLONASS do have a military angle as well. Today, India’s major military hardware is of Russian origin and GLONASS would naturally offer a compatible navigation solution. Therefore, over time, India is expected to have larger stakes in GLONASS and could be involved in production and joint use as partners. Both civil and military aviation in India urgently require a global positioning system.


India plans to launch a dedicated satellite for youth, which would carry scientific instruments developed by students from Indian and foreign universities. India feels that there is a need to impress upon the present generation to pursue rocket science. It is envisaged that YouthSat could motivate the younger generation towards ‘space research’. This project marks the entry of civil society in space research and collaboration. Also, this satellite offers India to test and qualify cost effective options for outer space research and make a fresh beginning in the 21st century towards atmospheric research.

Chandrayaan 2

India successfully launched its first moon mission, Chandrayaan 1, in 2008. This probe is expect ed to revolve around the moon for an approximate period of 18 months. India will partner Russia for its second moon mission, Chandrayaan 2. ISRO and Russia’s Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos, have signed an agreement for a joint lunar research and exploration mission.

India will benefit immensely from Russia’s experience with deep space missions. India expects that both states could effectively carry out mineral and chemical mapping of the moon surface, which has relevance with regard to energy security (availability of Helium 3 on the surface of the moon could change the global energy scenario enormously). Further, spin-off technologies developed during this mission could have both civil and military relevance. India and Russia will also collaborate in few other areas related to space activities in the years to come.

It is amply evident that Russia-India space cooperation has led to successful joint ventures in the past, resulting in innumerable opportunities for future space related projects at different levels. Both sides must work together in deep space missions and the Mars mission, which could be another significant step in space and technological cooperation. India could be a reliable partner in Russia’s endeavour to expand its presence in the global space arena and both countries could work together towards the formulation of a globally acceptable space regime.

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Dr Nivedita Das Kundu is a Foreign Policy Analyst and currently working as a Research Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies in Baku, Azerbaijan.

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    Mikhail Barabanov, "Russian-Indian Cooperation in Space", Moscow Defense Brief,, accessed on Dec 15, 2008.

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    Satellite Tracking & Ranging Station (STARS), ,accessed on Jan 12 2009.

    "Watch this Indo-Russia space", Indian Express, Jan 30, 2009

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