Category NASA in the World

The Satellite as a New Plow for Rural Farmers: NASA,. Hasselblad Cameras, Coconut Wilt Disease, and. the Origins of Remote Sensing in India

Among the developing countries only Brazil and India have advanced remote sensing capabilities. Ideas of using modern remote sensing techniques for observing natural resources began to take shape in the late 1960s. Many scientists were sent by Brazil and India to US institutions, mainly MIT and Stanford, for basic training in the use of remote sensing technology. Beginning in the 1920s, black-and-white aerial photography was used for land survey and river assessments. Multispectral imagery was introduced in the 1970s.52 The availability of revolutionary Landsat images produced by a series of American earth observation satellites in the 1970s opened new pos­sibilities for the Indian planners to use this technology for the management of natural resources.53 These images were used extensively for surveys and for tracking natural vegetation.54 The promise of this new technology led to the institutionalization of remote sensing in India.55 NASA played an important part in the evolution of the technique by training scientific personnel and providing scientific and technological instruments to promote this new field. This helped impart technological know-how to the Indian scientists enabling them to build the first Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellite. The eminent Indian scientist P. D. Bhavsar viewed remote sensing in India to be full of cooperative and collaborative efforts, between scientists and engineers, tech­nologists and bureaucrats, planners and decision-makers, at all levels, within and across national boundaries, between the technically advanced and devel­oping nations, and between developing nations themselves.56 What follows is a short account of the relationship between NASA and India since the early 1970s in the field of remote sensing.

As stated in the previous chapter, the UN conference on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space held at Vienna in August 1968 was an important milestone. It was attended by delegates from many countries who presented papers that dealt with applications of aircraft-based remote sensing in agriculture, forestry, soil mapping, watershed inventory and planning, pest and disease detection, map­ping of forest fires, range surveys, hydrology and water resources development, and geological applications. The EROS, Earth Resources Observations Satellite program of the US Department of Interior, was discussed for the first time. One of the major objectives described was “to disseminate data collected by the satel­lite to appropriate scientists in order to facilitate assessment of land and water resources of the U. S. and other nations desirous of this information.” The con­ference also discussed in great detail all facets of international cooperation and opportunities, including economic, legal, and social problems of the exploration and use of outer space.

The decade following this conference saw a great spurt in the international collaborative activities in the field of remote sensing. In its initial phase these activities were almost entirely bilateral. On September 28, 1969, US president Richard Nixon told the UN General Assembly that America would proceed with its earth resources program so as to share the benefits of its work in this field with other nations “as this program proceeds and fulfills its promise.” In accor­dance with UN General Assembly resolution 2600 (XXIV), NASA concentrated on actions to inform the international community about the evolving American program, to offer orientation and training, and to mount aircraft-based pro­grams in preparation for the later use of satellite data.57

After this UN meeting Vikram Sarabhai constituted a small group at the space physics division of the Space Science and Technology Centre (SSTC) in Trivandrum to develop remote sensing. This small group was later moved to the Physical Research Laboratory, PRL, in Ahmedabad. It was expanded and later moved to Space Applications Centre, SAC, located in Ahmedabad under the eminent meteorologist and father of remote sensing in India, P. R. Pisharoty.58

The first interdepartmental meeting was convened by ISRO in December 1969 for acquainting the policymakers and departmental chiefs about the potentialities of remote sensing for earth resources surveys. About 40 members representing vari­ous organizations attended this meeting59 and several members of parliament and a number of Indian policymakers in the government attended for part of the time. As a result of this, it was decided to conduct a small remote sensing project for the early detection of the blight disease, which affected the coconut plantations. This wilt disease devastated coconut plantations in the Travancore-Cochin area of the Kerala state in Southern India. It affected about one hundred thousand acres of coconut plantations and was estimated to cause an annual loss of about $2 million. Hence any method of early detection was of great economic value to the state of Kerala. It was decided to carry out an aircraft survey for this purpose. It was also decided to conduct this work with minimum expenditure by utilizing the existing facilities and manpower of the ISRO. Coincidentally, ISRO’s Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station was also situated in this locality and the detection of coconut wilt disease using an aerial remote sensing technique was taken up as a good oppor­tunity for justifying the usefulness of a space research program to the nation.

ISRO communicated this interest to NASA and their request was forwarded to Edwin Henry Roberts, an expert scientist in agriculture and forestry remote sensing at the University of California, Berkeley.60 Roberts suggested it was pos­sible to identify diseased trees through aerial remote sensing at an early phase of the disease. Further, at ISRO’s request, NASA arranged to send one scientist from Roberts’s lab in early 1970, to help in taking the necessary photographs. The pro­gram was accommodated in the existing agreement for the conduct of scientific experiments between two space research agencies of India and the U. S.

As a collaborative effort between India and NASA, two 70-mm Hasselblad cameras and films were loaned to India. The helicopter was given to TERLS by the Hydro Meteorological Services (HMS) of the USSR, an agency that collabo­rated with ISRO on scientific work in rocket meteorology and upper atmosphere studies. It took photographs from a height of about one thousand feet using Kodak infrared films and panchromatic black-and-white films using different color filters. A total of about four hundred infrared false color (these images are produced by coloring the invisible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum) and black-and-white pictures were taken over a period of five days. Most of the pho­tographs showed very fine details and were found to contain very valuable infor­mation. The photographic results confirmed that the disease could be detected by the new technique even before visual symptoms appeared.

The success of the aforementioned program led ISRO to plan a continuing future program. As a second step, ISRO took up the project to complete an infra­red scanner for aircraft use. The infrared scanner was constructed in France at the laboratories of CNES by an Indian scientist and an engineer in collaboration with a French group. It was used for the thermal mapping of oceans and land areas from an aircraft platform. Many scientists were sent to American institutions along with P. R. Pisharoty to learn the benefits of using remote sensing technology.

To convince the Indian bureaucracy, a test was conducted to show how remote sensing technologies could be used for addressing agricultural prob­lems that were faced by India. In 1973 user agencies participated in a seminar on remote sensing, and specially prepared papers were presented on the role of space technology in various application areas to convince the user depart­ments of their importance. Such efforts not only promoted the applications, but also established a healthy trend where the user agencies defined the sensor needs for the satellite, a key factor in the success of the program. To introduce remote sensing technology for applications in various fields the National Remote Sensing Agency, NRSA, was set up in 1975 under the Department of Science and Technology, which became the nucleus of Indian remote sensing. It was involved in the training and education of scientists.

Six years after NASA had launched Landsat 1 (ERTS-1) in 1972, NRSA nego­tiated a deal to receive Landsat data directly in India by setting up a receiving station. The governments of the United States and India signed a memorandum of understanding, which covered the services to be offered to India and the terms of payment to the United States. NRSA sent its engineers for training to the United States in order to help set up a Landsat receiving station in Hyderabad, located in the state of Andhra Pradesh, which was commissioned in 1979. The station was expanded in later years to receive data from the French SPOT, the European Remote Sensing Satellite (ERS-1), and the US NOAA meteorological satellites, Canada’s Radarsat, and India’s own Indian Remote Sensing, IRS, series of satellites. The follow-on second generation IRS satellites, IRS-1C and IRS-1D, with better spectral and spatial resolution, stereo viewing and on-board recording capabilities further added to the country’s remote sensing ability.

Direct Reception Systems

The direct reception systems, DRS, completed the vast network that was put in place for the SITE project. The development of the DRS was started in 1972 at the Electronics Systems Division of the Space Applications Center in Ahmedabad. The system had three main components: the antenna to receive the signals transmitted by the satellite, the front end converter to transform the signals into a form compatible with a normal television receiver, and a television receiver.

The antennas measuring ten feet in diameter, the front end converter, the most complex one in the assembly, and the television sets were first designed in the Space Application Center (SAC) in Ahmedabad. The prototypes were given to a public sector company, the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), located in Hyderabad, for mass production. The television monitor itself was basically a commercial model slightly modified for community viewing and rural use. “Seven hundred of the 2400 sets were ‘ruggedized’ by using higher quality components, as a part of an ‘experiment-within-an-experiment’ to inves­tigate the tradeoffs between initial cost and maintenance cost.”32 To facilitate transfer of ‘know-how’ and to expedite production, some ISRO engineers who had developed these units were posted to ECIL.33

The direct reception systems were deployed in selected villages and the dis­tricts of six states, namely, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and Rajasthan. The villages were selected according to the criteria laid down by the Planning Commission of India. The criteria included availability of electricity, public buildings, low population, and so on. To carry out an orga­nized effort of deployment, operation, and maintenance of these television sets, maintenance subcenters and a central cluster headquarters were established in each state. These cluster headquarters acted as nodes for the distribution and maintenance of the community reception system.

Before the SITE mission in India, the satellite was used to perform a variety of health and education television experiments via satellite in the Appalachian area, the Rocky Mountain Region, and Northwest United States including Alaska.34 In July 1975, while it was being shifted eastward along the equator for the SITE mission, the ATS-6 tracked the docked Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft as they orbited the Earth in the Joint US/USSR manned space mission (see chapter 7). It also relayed live television from these spacecraft to the Earth, thus becoming the first satellite to perform such a feat.35 After this it was positioned at 35,900 kilometers over east Africa and controlled from the Goddard Space Flight Center through a ground station in Spain. Since the downlink SITE fre­quency of 860 megahertz could interfere with terrestrial services in Europe, its antenna was pointed eastward toward India and away from Europe, thus avoid­ing interference with European surface broadcasts.

Revising the Regulatory Regime in the 1990s

In the early 1990s NASA took an important step toward formalizing and streamlining its implementation of the export control regulations affecting space collaboration in all its aspects. Two factors converged to encourage these insti­tutional changes. First, the agency and its contractors were under increasing criticism for being lax in enforcing the statutory regulations controlling exports to foreign partners—for example, they allowed Norway to acquire sounding rockets, which fell squarely under the ITAR, through the less stringent “dual­use” provisions of the EAR that regulate the export of items on the Commerce Control List. Second, new policies were needed to deal with the inclusion of the one-time space rival and communist menace, the ex-Soviet Union, as a signifi­cant partner in the International Space Station (see chapter 13). In response to this situation, in 1994/95 NASA replaced its previously fragmented program with a single export control office that handled authorizations required by both ITAR and EAR, to ensure that the different regimes were implemented coher­ently. Second, an interagency Space Technology Working Group agreed that the civil Space Station should be moved from the USML to the CCL, along with commercial communications satellites. Until that time all spacecraft except for comsats were on the USML (but see later). Henceforth (and still today), the ISS could also benefit from the greater clarity, transparency, and flexibility of the EAR over the ITAR.9 This has undoubtedly contributed to its success as a site for international collaboration.

In 1996 President Clinton ordered that the export controls over commercial comsats be placed on the CCL. This settled an ongoing dispute between the Commerce and State Departments that had simmered for almost a decade. In the late 1980s President Reagan had signed a deal with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) authorizing nine launches of American-built comsats on Chinese rockets. The Tiananmen Square sanctions law passed in 1990 (P. L. 101-246) suspended this policy for a few years. However the pressure to secure markets for US manufacturers led to a relaxation in 1992, when the State Department issued a directive transferring some comsats from the USML to the CCL, and so to the jurisdiction of Commerce. This transfer was completed by Clinton’s order in 1996.10 The president was keen to move from a policy of confrontation with the PRC to one of diplomatic and commercial engagement. The sale of supercomputers to China was authorized. Satellite technology for telecommu­nications was removed from the USML, and from the jurisdiction of the State Department, and placed on the Commerce Department’s more lenient CCL. And in summer 1997, at the first US-China summit meeting since the crushed protest in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the president hoped to conclude a nuclear cooperation agreement that would enable American nuclear reactor companies to compete for the Chinese market.

Many in Congress were appalled by this new openness to the PRC. The House’s concern was focused on allegations that two American satellite companies, Hughes Space and Communications International, Inc., and Space Systems/Loral, had illegally transferred sensitive missile technology to the PRC. This had occurred during investigations into three unsuccessful launches of their telecommunications satellites for civilian clients on Chinese Long March rockets. The possibility of such leakage led to the passage of the Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999.11 This imposed new restrictions on international exchange before the Justice Department had finished its inquiry against Hughes and Loral.

Fear of irresponsible sharing of missile-related technology also led Congress to establish a bipartisan committee chaired by Representative Chris Cox (R-California) to investigate the matter. The political climate was charged: one observer has remarked that “[a] number of Republican leaders went to the floor of the House and Senate and accused the President of treason for allegedly facilitating this transfer of information.”12 The bipartisan committee’s classified report was submitted to the president on January 3, 1999; a declassified version was released on May 25, 1999 (the Cox Report).13 The account that follows deals first with the specific charges against Hughes and Loral, and then with the more general charges made in the Cox Report.

NASA and an Indian Launcher

The sounding rocket program in India provided an important stimulus to the devel­opment of an indigenous capability in rocketry from as early as 1961. In that year G. B. Pant, a scientist based in the Birla Institute of Technology, expressed a desire for assistance in establishing a Department of Rocketry at the university level in India. His request was refused citing the potential strategic military implications.61 The United States had no security agreement with India under which assurances were given for the protection of sensitive information.62 However, in 1964, Professor Pant again approached NASA with the “endorsement” of Sarabhai seeking NASA support for the assignment of an American academic expert in solid rocket pro­pulsion theory to spend a year initiating a research program at the Birla Institute. The US Department of State gave a favorable response and NASA arranged with Princeton University to send Maurice Webb to work on the theoretical aspects of rocket propulsion. After the completion of Webb’s “tour-of duty” Pant again asked for two experts in the field of propulsion and aerodynamics. By this time Sarabhai was also planning to come over to the United States to recruit fifteen people for a solid rocket development program in India under the auspices of INCOSPAR. India was building French Centaure rockets under license with Sud-Aviation and Hideo Itokawa at Tokyo University (see chapter 9) was providing consulting assis­tance.63 Situating Pant’s request in this broader context (and aware of even greater Indian ambitions, to be discussed in a moment), Frutkin sent a cautionary confiden­tial memo on August 25, 1965, to J. Wallace Joyce, acting director, International Scientific and Technology Affairs in the Department of State about the risk of supporting such an academic endeavor. As he explained, NASA had “so far care­fully avoided contributing to rocket development programs abroad.” Several other Asian countries, including Pakistan and Indonesia, were interested in developing rockets and once the agency had helped one it would necessarily become embroiled in helping the others. Frutkin concluded by remarking that while NASA wanted to accommodate the State Department’s wishes, it was concerned that “assistance in the Birla program as now understood might compromise NASA’s international space responsibilities, involve NASA in a difficult precedent with regard to other countries, and might contribute to nationalistic competition with military implica­tions,” most obviously as regards India and Pakistan.64

The Chinese nuclear test in October 1964 triggered greater ambitions. Both Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai discussed the possibility of cooperating with NASA in building a launch vehicle as one response to the loss of prestige to their communist rival. The discussions centered on procuring the technology of the all-solid four-stage Scout rocket. Commonly called the “poor man’s rocket,” it was capable of launching satellites weighing close to 100 pounds into low – earth orbit. In February 1965, Bhabha asked Frutkin about the cost and time factors for the development of a small satellite booster system. The results were predictable. Frutkin reminded him that whereas the Scout had been approved by the Department of State as available in principle for purchase by other coun­tries in connection with scientific research, the transfer of this technology as such posed a quite different problem. Granted the security aspects, this was “a matter for determination by the Department of State under Munitions Control procedures.”65

Bhabha’s visit to inquire into the possibilities of acquiring Scout rockets trig­gered a major exchange between Frutkin and Robert F. Packard in the State Department, who was interested in finding ways to assist India regain regional influence without developing nuclear weapons. He sought detailed advice on India’s ability to engage in a range of programs, from launching its own satellite outside India with foreign assistance using a foreign launch vehicle to launch­ing an Indian satellite as a solely national enterprise, as France would do in November 1965 with its Diamant/Asterix (launcher/satellite) combination.66

Frutkin responded in detail to the queries and did not think that India could do too much in the short term. Regarding the time frame, he pointed out that even if India made fundamental progress in major areas in the development of a booster within five years, US, Japanese, and French experience suggested that India could not complete a total booster system in this time. Comparing the Indian case with France and Japan he noted that the Japanese had been working on solid propellant technology for close to ten years with a fairly large industrial base without any concrete results. Similarly, the French had been working for at least six or seven years toward building a satellite launch vehicle without reaching their objective. Frutkin noted that India might also have difficulty with respect to several systems that go with the launcher—telemetry, command, guidance, test, and check out systems. He categorically stated that such an extensive program would “preempt all of the known Indian competence in the necessary areas for a period of years roughly related to the period of time used by France and Japan.” As regards cost, this was likely to be $55-65 million—$ 45 million for building a launcher. Add another $11-15 million for launch facilities: Frutkin pointed out that Thumba was small and not a conducive location for satellite launching, so a launch site on the East coast was needed.67

Of course cost and schedule could be reduced with foreign assistance. Sarabhai had apparently already done a cost analysis of a “partially independent Indian booster development program for a Scout type vehicle at $ 25 million using French and Japanese technology.”68 He added that an “indigenous” satel­lite would cost around “2-4 million and would take the Indians three years with foreign assistance.” If India sought the help of Japan and France, the country “could probably produce a satellite launch vehicle in 8-10 years.” Sarabhai esti­mated that if US assistance was forthcoming this could be reduced to seven – eight years.69

Should the United States help speed up the “Indian National” booster pro­gram the time required could be reduced substantially. Frutkin noted that Scout guidance, for example, was not classified and could very likely be made available to India under existing policy (this system is essentially an attitude reference sys­tem with limited value for strategic purposes). Nevertheless, substantial numbers of personnel would be required to work in India, with inevitable publicity and high costs.70 In short, if the United States agreed to cooperate, it would be only “partially an indigenous development” and the whole process would “involve highly visible foreign assistance” so defeating the purpose of boosting India’s prestige in the subcontinent using space technology.

There was an alternative: cost and time could be significantly reduced if the Indians were to use a Scout in America. If, as in the case of the Italian San Marco project (see chapter 2), the arrangement were to be a cooperative one between NASA and the Indians, NASA could provide the launch vehicles at a cost of about $3 million to the United States. This latter alternative assumed that the project would be of sufficient scientific or political value to America to justify direct US involvement and expenditure, of course.

Nothing came of these initial approaches. While work at TERLS engaged Indian energies in the latter half of the 1960s, Sarabhai promoted the indigenous production of launch vehicles through the incremental development of sounding rockets. This is evident from his address at the UN conference in Vienna and the institutional developments directed toward the needs of a budding launch vehicle program.

At the UN Conference in Vienna in 1968 Sarabhai spoke about the importance of an indigenous capability, fully aware of the difficulty of getting foreign assis­tance: “[T]he military overtones of a launcher development program of course complicate the free transmittal of technology involved in these applications.”71 By 1968 he had already done a cost analysis of building a launch vehicle program and the required ground systems, including a launch pad on the eastern sea coast. He factored in the costs of a scientific pool for supporting a fully fledged program.72 Reports and published sources indicate that at this time India made its first-ever study for developing its own Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV).

The Chinese launched Long March I (CZ-1) on April 24, 1970, placing the Dong Fang Hong (the East is Red) DFH-1 satellite in low-earth orbit. Though launched a few months after the Japanese launch of the Osumi satellite in February 1970 using the Japanese Lambda rocket, the Chinese launch triggered an outcry in India. The debate in India, soon after launch, centered on whether the country should develop a nuclear deterrent against China—India had refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) brokered by the United States, the USSR, and the United Kingdom in 1968—and the resultant opinion was highly in favor of one. The then defense minister Swaran Singh “reaffirmed” before the Indian par­liament that he would “review the possibilities for an accelerated space program.”73 This triggered another effort by Sarabhai to obtain US cooperation in building an Indian launching capability including guidance and control technology.

An April 1970 memo from the American Embassy in Delhi to the State Department, after detailing the situation in India, warned that “US denial would generate serious irritation in Indo-US relations, would turn Indians to other sup­pliers and would inhibit our capacity to monitor Indian space research develop­ments, and our ability to influence developments toward peaceful rather than military applications.”74 Another such dispatch a few months later reiterated these points.75 However, here the negative arguments far outweighed the pro argu­ments for any meaningful cooperation. “India’s overall economic development could be imprudently retarded by major expenditures in atomic and rocket fields”: something else was needed to contain hunger in the rural areas. Helping India would also send the wrong signals to China and Pakistan concerning American policy on international military applications of science and technology. If the United States provided technology to India and not to other interested coun­tries it would have “corrosive effects” on US relations elsewhere. A “premature US commitment” could also “inadvertently nudge Government of India’s pro­gram into direction Indians might later find fruitless, with possible consequent recriminations against U. S.” The US government was also aware of the rhetoric of the Indian political elite that “only a nuclear equipped India can win a rightful place in counsels of major powers.” US support would “stimulate advanced rocket development” and enhance the early development of “Indian nuclear weapons system.” The United States, as the architect of NPT and an opponent of Indian nuclear weapons development, would not even indirectly wish to facilitate such an Indian decision. In light of these considerations, the embassy recommended a flexible long-range policy of selective cooperation and restraint whereby the United States could provide India unclassified technology and other types of assistance directed toward India’s peaceful economic and social development.76

The State Department looked into these possibilities from various angles bearing in mind the agreement being reached with Japan over the provision of unclassified Thor-Delta technology (chapter 10). Anthony C. E. Quainton, senior political officer for India in the department, discussed possibilities with U. Alexis Johnson who struck the deal with Tokyo. He favored a joint collabora­tion with the Indians up through the Scout level in unclassified technology on propulsion systems without financial support and with suitable assurances about peaceful use.77 In December 1970 Joseph T. Kendrick sent a proposal to Robert A. Clark of Munitions Control (MC) asking him to agree to assist India on simi­lar terms as agreed between the United States and Japan. Clark’s reply indicated that he had no policy objection to the substance of the proposal. However, he expressed reservations about sending the proposal to Johnson for approval as it had not been discussed with NASA and the DOD who had been unhappy with the Japanese arrangement. Clark drew attention to the vagueness of the offer to cooperate in the development of a limited space program “up to and including the general level of Scout Rocket Technology.” Clark said that he knew “from personal experience that Indian officials are aggressive and persistent individuals who might be more likely to cry foul whenever they believe correctly or incor­rectly that their understandings differ from someone else’s understandings.” Thus, wrote Clark, “the USG position on what Scout technology means should be prepared in advance and not left to chance as has been done with the Japanese and Thor-Delta technology”78—a nice example of bureaucratic learning.

Three years later we find that, though critical elements of launch vehicle technology were denied, the declassified State Department papers indicate the approval of some “hardware” related to sounding rockets and satellites, which were “unsophisticated in character.” However, the Indian space program was still closely watched for potential ballistic missile activities. As the memo put it, “So far, the Indian program appears peaceful in character—as the Indians claim— but it is developing the technological capability for a missile system should the Government of India opt for this course.”79

The last available discussion on the subject was in a confidential memo from John Sipes to Joseph Scisco on June 27, 1973, requesting the formulation of a departmental position on whether it would be in the overall interest of the United States to assist India in the development of its space program. The ques­tion was prompted because the Office of Munitions Control had received a num­ber of requests from industry for Department of State approval to export space hardware and technology for India’s space program. The hardware included components such as gyros and accelerometers, which were essential for the guid­ance and control of launch vehicles and missiles.80 Sipes brought up the Japanese case of Thor-Delta technology transfer for comparison and explained how the Japanese had undertaken to use the launch vehicle and satellites developed with US assistance on condition that they would be used for peaceful purposes only and in line with the Intelsat agreements. This was not the case with India. In fact in April the Indian government announced that it was developing missiles for its armed services. Sipes asked rhetorically whether US help to India with satellite and launcher development would further “world peace and the security and the foreign policy of the United States.” He concluded that it was not “prudent to permit the release of space hardware and technology” especially gyros and accel­erometers, which were critical for inertial navigation systems.81

A Scout license production agreement never made its way into India. The Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, Sarabhai’s sudden demise in December 1971, and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) by India in 1974 all undermined the possibilities of cooperation between NASA and India in sensitive technolo­gies.82 To make matters worse from Washington’s point of view, in the light of the alienation with the United States the-then prime minister Indira Gandhi sought increased friendship with Moscow, which led eventually to the success­ful launch of three Indian satellites by the Soviet Union.83 This is not to say that NASA had no regrets. A recent interview with Arnold Frutkin captures the dilemma that NASA and the State Department faced when it came to sharing launch vehicle technology. The issue, as he stressed, “was slanted by the fear that India would be using it as a delivery weapon for—a delivery vehicle for a weapon.” Frutkin was discussing the acquisition of a Scout with India at the time, and was convinced that “in the long run India would have what it wanted by way of a delivery vehicle or a space vehicle, and either they would have it with our goodwill and friendship or they would have it over our dead bodies.” His preference was plainly for some kind of collaborative arrangement, and he personally regretted that the United States had not been more forthcom­ing, leading to Indian resentment and a decline in relations, all of which, in Frutkin’s view, “could have been sidestepped by working with India to arrive at just where they are today.”84

Technological Component: The Software

The term “software” was generally used for the program content of the satel­lite broadcast. An enormous amount of programming had to be produced for SITE as the satellite was available to India for approximately 1,400 hours of transmission.36 All India Radio, later Doordarshan, took the overall responsibil­ity for producing these programs. The educational programs were produced in three base production centers: Cuttack, Hyderabad, and Delhi. The production of such a large number of programs, keeping in view the basic objectives and the specific audience requirements, was a challenging task. Most of the studio facilities available to SITE were small, underequipped, and understaffed. This fact, coupled with the time pressure for production, created a continuing pres­sure toward easy-to-produce “entertainment” programming, even when audi­ence feedback indicated a preference for the so-called hard core instructional programs.37 Since the software part demanded a lot of attention from the Indian side Frutkin made every attempt to ensure that it was done properly. “When he visited India in January 1975, seven months before the experiment started, he insisted on a physical examination of television studios and programs.”38

Doordarshan formed separate committees to assist program production relat­ing to agriculture, health, and family planning. These committees were helped by institutions like the agricultural universities, teachers training colleges, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and so on.39 Other departments and agencies like the Film Division, the National Center for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) under the Department of Education, along with inde­pendent producers, contributed to making film material for the software con­tent of the SITE project. SITE broadcasts regularly reached over 2,300 villages. Their size varied from 600 to 3,000 people, with an average of 1,200 inhabit­ants. Thus, about 2.8 million people had daily access to SITE programming.40 The programs were available for some four hours a day and were telecast twice, morning and evening.

SITE ended on July 31, 1976. Seeing the success of the project the Indian offi­cials and policymakers requested an extension of the program for one more year, but the request was not granted and ATS-6 was pulled back to the American region.

Frutkin, who orchestrated the SITE project for NASA, said that the one-year experiment proved the possibilities of the use of advanced satellites for mass communication. And he clearly knew that it would bring monetary benefits. “We took the satellite back. What was the consequence? India contracted with Ford Aerospace for a commercial satellite to continue their programs. . . the

Technological Component: The SoftwareBROADCAST SATELLITE BRINGS


Figure 12.4 ATS receiver and SITE watchers. Source: NASA.

point is, this program not only was an educational lift to India and demonstrated what such a satellite could do, but it brought money back into the U. S. com­mercial contracts for satellites for a number of years.”41 Years earlier in a House Committee report on the implications of satellite communications, he expressed the same view: “I’m quite confident that by virtue of our participation in this experiment, India will look to the U. S. first for the commercial and launching assistance it requires for future programs. And I think this is a very important product of our relationship.”42

SITE was regarded by many as a landmark experiment in the rapid upgrading of education in a developing country (figure 12.4). It became the most innova­tive and potentially the most far-reaching effort to apply advanced Western tech­nologies to the traditional problems of the developing world. For the first time NASA and ISRO cooperated very closely in an effort to determine the feasibility of using experimental communication satellite technology to contribute to the solution of some of India’s major education and development needs.43 For NASA the experiment provided a proof that advanced technology could play a major part in solving the problems of less-developed countries. It was seen as an impor­tant expression of US policy to make the benefits of its space technology directly available to other peoples and also a valuable test of the technology and social mechanisms of community broadcasting. Seeing Indian states to be linguisti­cally divided, the US State Department hoped that the experiment offered India an important and useful domestic tool in the interests of national cohesion. The experiment also stimulated a domestic television manufacturing enterprise in India with important managerial, economic, and technological implications. It provided information and experience of value for future application of educa­tional programs elsewhere in the world.44

Frutkin was emphatic about the value of SITE for other developing countries. “The Indian experiment is, of course, of prime significance for developing coun­tries, those which have not been able to reach large segments of their population, those which have overriding social problems which might be ameliorated through communication and education and particularly those where visual techniques could help to bypass prevalent illiteracy.”45 The SITE experiment played a cru­cial role for India too. The results of the year-long SITE project were evaluated carefully by the Indian government. The data played a major role in determin­ing whether India should continue to develop her own communication satellite program (INSAT) or fall back on the use of more traditional, terrestrial forms of mass communication in order to transmit educational programs to the popu­lace.46 Thanks to SITE the first-generation Indian National Satellite (INSAT-1) series, four in total, was built by Ford Aerospace in the United States.47

The SITE project represented an important experimental step in the develop­ment of a national communications system and of the underlying technological, managerial, and social supporting elements. Following the proposal made by India, Brazil too initiated a proposal for a quite different educational broad­cast experiment utilizing the ATS-6 spacecraft. The project was intended to serve as the development prototype of a system that would broadcast television and radio instructional material to the entire country through a government – owned geostationary satellite.48 Frutkin saw the Indian project and the Brazilian experiment to be a model for other developing countries. In 1976 Indonesia became the first country in the developing world to have its own satellite system, the Palapa satellite system, manufactured by engineers at NASA and at Hughes Aerospace.49

SITE showed India that a high technology could be used for socioeconomic development. It became one justification for building a space program in a poor country—the question became “not whether India could afford a space program but can it afford not to have one”?50 “Modernization” through science and tech­nology was not new to the Indian subcontinent. In more than two centuries of British occupation India witnessed a huge incursion of technologies—railways, telegraph, telephone, radio, plastics, printing presses for “development” and extraction.51 The geosynchronous satellite in postcolonial India can be seen as an extension of the terrestrial technologies that the British used to civilize/ modernize a traditional society. In this case the United States replaced the erst­while imperial power to bring order, control, and “modernization” to the newly decolonized states through digital images using satellite technologies that were far removed from the territorial sovereignty of nation-states.52

Hughes, Loral, the PRC, and the Strom Thurmond Act

In December 1992 the Chinese Long March 2E rocket failed to launch the Hughes-built Australian Optus B2 telecommunications satellite due to aerody­namic buffeting of the launcher’s fairing.14 Neither party would at first admit responsibility. Hughes conducted an independent investigation, and divulged information to the PRC suggesting ways in which it should modify the fair­ing by strengthening its structure. At a subsequent successful launch in August 1994 observers from Hughes noted that the fairing had been modified simply by adding rivets. This proved to be insufficient. The next launch of a Hughes satellite, the Asian Apstar 2 in January 1995, failed for the same reason as had the launch of Optus 2. This time the Chinese members of a joint accident review committee agreed that the cause of the failure was due to weaknesses in their fairing. The marginal improvement achieved by adding rivets was not sufficient to withstand the additional stress caused by the strong upper-altitude winds that buffeted the payload when it was launched in winter. Suitable corrective mea­sures were taken along the lines first proposed by Hughes—corrective measures that, some feared, would be invaluable for improving nose cones that protected nuclear warheads on Chinese ballistic missiles.

A Loral Intelsat 708 satellite was destroyed in the Long March commercial launch failure in February 1996. This time the PRC engineers quickly admitted responsibility. They suspected that the launch failure was probably due to a fault in the inner part of the inertial measurement unit (IMU) of the Long March 3B rocket guidance system, though telemetry data did not fully confirm this. The insurance company that had agreed to cover the imminent launch of an Apstar satellite (typically for about $50 million) demanded that an independent review committee be established. The committee comprised representatives from the PRC, Hughes, Loral, and Daimler Benz, and retired experts that had worked for British Aerospace, General Dynamics, and Intelsat. It placed great weight on the telemetry data, and suggested that the follow-up frame, rather than the inner part of the IMU (the preferred explanation by Chinese engineers), was respon­sible for the accident. The PRC confirmed that, indeed, a failure in the follow-up electrical servo unit was the cause of the launch failure.

Loral faxed a preliminary report of this finding to the PRC in May 1996. The State Department learned that the firm had disclosed information that some thought would significantly improve the guidance system on Chinese missiles, without first having it reviewed for sensitive content, and without an export license.

The Strom Thurmond Act signed into law in October 1998 took steps to regulate these practices. It devoted 6 pages out of 360 (Title XV. B) to a number of measures designed to control the export of satellite technology to the PRC.15 One of its most fundamental innovations (in Section 1513) was to remove the president’s authority to change the jurisdictional status of satellites and related items even if they had civilian applications. These were, and still are (August 2012), “the only dual-use items that are required by law to be controlled as defense articles.” Thus whereas normally “the President has the authority to authorize the easing of controls on items and related technologies that transition to predominately civil uses or that become widely available,” this did not now apply to satellite-related items. The export of all “satellites and related items” were put back on the US Munitions List and subject to the ITAR, and require Congressional action to remove them.16 The Strom Thurmond Act also called for new bureaucratic procedures to ensure compliance. It stipulated that any export licenses had to be accompanied by a Technology Transfer Control Plan that had been approved by the secretary of defense and an “encryption technol­ogy transfer control plan approved by the Director of the National Security Agency.” In response to accusations that security on the launch pad in China (often in the hands of private contractors) had been dismal while the satellite was being installed, the DoD was also called upon to monitor all aspects of the launch of an American satellite in a foreign country, including analyses of launch failure, “to ensure that no unauthorized transfer of technology occurs, includ­ing technical assistance and technical data.”

In March 2003, Hughes Electronics Corporation and Boeing Satellite Systems, charged with 123 violations of export laws, admitted that they had not obtained the required licenses for their dealings with the PRC. The firms acknowledged “the nature and seriousness of the offenses charged by the Department of State, including the harm such offenses could cause to the security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”17 Their $32 million civil penalty was the largest in an arms export case.

The Indigenous Development of a Launcher

The idea of using a Scout design for India’s first SLV persisted ever since Bhabha and Sarabhai contemplated developing a launch vehicle. Several years of nego­tiation, and the familiarity Indian scientists and engineers gained with Scout during their tenure at Wallops Island and other NASA facilities, played a key role when India opted for a launch vehicle that was at once proven and reli­able and within India’s reach. Gopal Raj also claims that the Scout model was chosen because “Indians did not then have sufficient experience for ab initio design of a launch vehicle.”85 In 1968, aeronautical engineer Y. J. Rao along with electronics engineer Pramod Kale did a detailed study on developing a sat­ellite launch vehicle. The report was in favor of a vehicle configuration based on four-stage solid propellant rocket, modeled on Scout.86 Being all solid propel­lant, a technology easier than complex liquids, this seemed to be a possible route that Indians could attempt and succeed.

In his report Profile for the Decade Sarabhai explicitly spoke of the indigenous building of a satellite launch capability for “many applications of outer space in the fields of communications, meteorology and remote sensing.” He also gave the performance specifications of an all-solid four-stage satellite launch vehicle weighing 20 tons, and capable of launching a satellite weighing 30 kilograms in a 400-kilometer low-earth orbit. According to the report, the flight testing of sensitive instruments, electronics, and instrumentation would be done using sounding rockets. Sarabhai also talks about the follow on program that could launch 1,200-kilogram satellite into a circular geosynchronous orbit at 36,000 kilometers: This was “the type of capability which is needed to fully exploit, on our own, the vast potential arising from the practical applications of space sci­ence and technology.”87

Since SLV-3 was modeled after Scout, two views have dominated the his­toriography of its development: indigenous development and technological diffusion. The first viewpoint was expressed by scientists and engineers who orchestrated the SLV-3 program. The second viewpoint comes from Western policy analysts who have denied that there was any indigenous contribution and basically state that SLV-3 was built using the technological “blueprints” freely given by NASA, albeit without any documentary evidence.88 Granted the dan­gers of sharing sensitive launcher technology with India it is doubtful whether NASA gave Scout “blue prints” to the Indians. However, the declassified docu­ments at NARA and NASA and the oral histories clearly tip the balance toward what Gopal Raj asserted in his book Reach for the Stars on the history of India’s launch vehicles, that is, that SLV-3 was built using freely available unclassified reports and that the incremental development of sounding rockets paved the way for developing SLV-3 after a span of 15 years. Though SLV-3 resembled Scout in its morphology, the subsystems and the fuel assembly showed marked difference from Scout architecture. Though the negotiations on the sharing of Scout technology and critical components did not lead to any tangible results, published articles and government reports indicate the importation of several minor subsystems and components from the United States and Europe that were crucial for the development of SLV-3. With these subsystems the engineers and scientists at ISRO incrementally scaled up their sounding rockets to higher con­figurations. As indicated earlier, an agreement was signed with Sud Aviation of France to produce under license an advanced sounding rocket called Centaure. Working on Centaure helped in building indigenous Rohini sounding rockets, which were advanced further to carry heavier payloads.89 Many of the subsys­tems including the heat shield and guidance were tested using an RH-560 prior to incorporating it in the SLV-3 vehicle. During the development of SLV-3, vari­ous changes were incorporated and the version eventually launched was entirely different from the originally conceived one.

By 1971 the design phase of the launcher was completed and of six designs Sarabhai chose the third, hence the name SLV-3. It was a vehicle measuring 22 meters in length and weighing 17 tons and it could place a 30-kilogram satellite into near-earth orbit. The Indo-Pakistan war and the untimely death of Sarabhai in December 1971 was a setback to the launch vehicle program. A restructuring of space was initiated by Indira Gandhi and the ISRO was split off from the DAE. A separate Department of Space, directly under the Indian government, was cre­ated. Sathish Dhawan, a Caltech graduate and the director of Indian Institute of Science (IISC), situated in Bangalore, became the chairman of ISRO after M. G. K. Menon’s brief stint. To lead the SLV-3 project Sathish Dhawan and Brahma Prakash, director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center, chose Abdul Kalam. Kalam was one of those who had been handpicked by Sarabhai to get trained at NASA in the earlier 1960s. He had visited the Langley Research Center, the Goddard Space Flight Center, and the NASA facility at Wallops Island, located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. His NASA training facilitated the first sounding rocket launch from TERLS in November 1963.90

On July 18, 1980, India placed its 35-kilogram Rohini (RS – D1) satellite in low-earth orbit, so becoming the sixth nation to accomplish this feat.91 Experience gained in building SLV-3 was built upon to produce heavier rockets. The Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) added two strap-on boosters to the existing SLV-3 configuration and could place a 150 kilogram satellite in low – earth orbit. It was followed by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which can launch 1,600-kilogram satellite into 600-kilometer polar orbit (PSLV-C6 mission in May 2005) and about 1 ton into GTO (PSLV-C4 mission in 2002).

Just as the Pokhran-I nuclear test exhibited the visibility of India’s nuclear program in 1974, the successful launch of the Rohini satellite made the space program visible. The launch attracted global attention. The US State Department expressed grave concern. The tense situation was only exacerbated when the Defense Department of India, seeing the successful satellite launch, enrolled Abdul Kalam, the project manager of SLV-3, to rejuvenate their ailing mis­sile program. He joined DRDO where he orchestrated the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program in 1983, which led to the organized research and development of guided missiles for different strategic military needs. Chief among those missiles was Agni, an IRBM successfully tested in 1989, which was built using the experience gained on SLV-3 and could carry warheads weighing almost 1,000 kilograms to targets deep inside the People’s Republic of China.

Space Collaboration Today: The ISS

Two major geopolitical changes in the 1990s have had very different impacts on NASA’s international relations over the past 20 years. The implosion of the Soviet system and the political will to integrate Russia into the core of what became the International Space Station (ISS) produced an exception to some time-hallowed NASA policies, notably, the notions of clean interfaces and no exchange of funds. By contrast, the “leakage” of sensitive satellite and missile technology to China, and its willingness to work closely with “rogue states” like Iran, gave traction to those who believed that the United States had to be far more prudent in its international posture, above all in sharing technology.1 This led to a tighter implementation of the ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) particularly as regards satellites. This added more layers of com­plexity and bureaucracy to international collaboration with traditional allies, and has stimulated lively debates between diverse stakeholders about the costs and benefits of implementing export controls more rigorously.

This chapter and the next discuss these developments. Since NASA’s decision to incorporate Russia into the ISS is treated in chapter 8, this analysis will pay greater attention to the structures of collaboration that were put in place before 1993. Those structures were deeply influenced by the history of NASA’s rela­tions with its traditional partners, above all Western Europe. Concerns about European disappointment at the outcome of the post-Apollo negotiations (chap­ters 4-6) and the ISPM affair (chapter 2) hung over negotiations between NASA and ESA. These past setbacks to the otherwise smooth path of cooperation were consciously drawn on as lessons that were not to be repeated. The classic prin­ciples of no exchange of funds and clean interfaces were not, however, put in question. That only happened when Russia was drawn into the project, bringing with it an array of Cold War technologies, record-breaking experience of long – duration human spaceflight, and a disintegrating infrastructure of institutions and industries that were seeking a new role for themselves. The architecture of the ISS was accommodated to incorporate Russian elements into technolo­gies that were critical to mission success. Millions of US dollars, both private and public, flowed to various actors in the Russian space sector in an attempt to revitalize them, and to engage them more tightly with American practices and priorities. The end-result was a space station in which NASA found itself

dependent on its partners in ways that were historically unprecedented. A new kind of international cooperation had been imposed, in which NASA’s mandate to sustain US leadership had to contend with its loss of autonomy.

The Cox Report

The declassified version of the Cox Report (or just the Cox Report in what follows) released on May 25, 1999, created a sensation. An editorial in the Washington Post caught the mood that day: it quoted Cox as saying that “[n]o other country has succeeded in stealing so much from the United States,” with serious and ongoing damage to the country.18 The Republican House majority leader Dick Armey said, “It’s very scary, and basically what it says is the Chinese now have the capability of threatening us with our own nuclear technology.”19 The ensuing sense of urgency led to calls for a transformation in the legal and administrative structure of international cooperation. Tighter controls on hard­ware and knowledge flows were imperative.

The Cox Report was a three-volume, 872-page glossy publication filled with photographs suitably labeled and a punchy overview that used color and other techniques to highlight key findings and to have them spring to the eye.20 Though most of the committee’s time was devoted to the Hughes and Loral cases, in the latter stages of its hearings it branched out into the “theft” of other sensitive technologies, notably for nuclear warhead design. Volume 1 of the report focused on this domain and on the diversion of High Performance Computers (600 of which had been sold to the PRC) from civilian to nuclear weapons applications. Volume 2 was devoted to the contacts between engineers at Hughes and Loral and their Chinese counterparts, particularly after the launch failures. It also had a section devoted to launch-site security in the PRC or, rather, the lack thereof. The short technological core of the third volume dealt with the efforts made by the PRC to improve their manufacturing pro­cesses by acquiring machine tool and jet engine technologies.

The report claimed that the PRC had “stolen design information on the United States’ most advanced thermonuclear weapons,” including the neutron bomb, from the four major weapons labs (Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Oak Ridge, and Sandia).21 This would give China design information on such devices “on a par with our own,” and would materially assist the country “in building its next generation of mobile ICBMs, which may be tested this year,” with “a significant effect on the regional balance of power.” China had also “stolen or illegally obtained U. S. missile and space technology that improves the PRC’s military and intelligence capabilities.” The information passed by US satellite manufacturers to their Chinese clients—without obtaining the requisite licenses, even though they knew they were needed—had “improved the reliabil­ity of PRC rockets useful for civilian and military purposes,” including ballistic missiles. These security lapses were compounded by poor security at launch pads and by the liberal sharing of technical information with foreign brokers and underwriters of satellite insurance. The knowledge thus acquired would not only strengthen China’s military capability, but the PRC was also “one of the lead­ing proliferators of complete ballistic missile systems and missile components in the world,” and had helped improve weapons programs in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea.

Two factors had facilitated these major breaches in the security wall. First, there were recent changes in international and domestic export control regimes that had reduced the ability to control the flow of militarily useful technology.

Supplementing this, there was China’s determination to obtain advanced US military technology, which it had actively sought for at least the past two decades. As the report put it, “To acquire U. S. technology the PRC uses a variety of techniques, including espionage, controlled commercial entities, and a network of individuals and organizations that engage in a vast array of contacts with sci­entists, business people, and academics.” In short, the Cox Report emphasized, “The PRC has mounted a widespread effort to obtain U. S. military technologies by any means—legal or illegal.”

As regards space policy, the Cox Report urged the executive branch to “aggressively implement the Satellite Export Control Provisions”22 of the Strom Thurmond Act. It demanded that the State Department be responsible for licensing the export of satellites and any satellite launch failure investigations. The Department of Defense, not satellite firms, was to be responsible for secu­rity at foreign launch sites, and had to establish appropriate monitoring proce­dures to ensure that no information of use to its missile programs was passed to the PRC. The report also insisted that “export controls are applied in full to communications among satellite manufacturers, purchasers, and the insurance industry, including communications after launch failures.”23 Recognizing that the American firms were seeking launch providers abroad because the United States had insufficient domestic launch capability (itself a result of the decision to cut back the production of expendable launchers so as to secure a market for the shuttle), the Select Committee also recommended that steps be taken to stimu­late the nation’s “commercial space-launch capacity and competition.”24

The Cox Report proved highly controversial. Joseph Cirincione, the direc­tor of the Carnegie Non-Proliferation Project, objected that the report had “taken a real problem and hyper-inflated it for political purposes.”25 The Center for International Security at Stanford University asked four experts (Alastair Iain Johnston, W. K. H. Panofsky, Marco di Capua, and Lewis R. Franklin) to review the report from different angles. Throughout their critique the authors stressed that the analysis was marred by “imprecise writing, sloppy research, and ill-informed speculation,” as Johnston put it.26 In a vigorous riposte Nicholas Rostow, a staff director on the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in turn identified what he called “50 Factual Errors in the Four Essays” that comprised the “Panofsky” critique.27 And toward the end of 1999 the National Academies’ Committee on Balancing Scientific Openness and National Security published its findings on the risks posed by foreign interactions with the national weapons laboratories.28

None of the critics denied that the Cox Report had put its finger on a serious issue. But they objected that it had incorrectly elevated security leaks to a privi­leged position in its analysis of knowledge flows between the United States and China: there were many other ways for PRC scientists and engineers to access the cutting edge of the American research system. They felt that it had incor­rectly assessed China’s strategic goals, and the urgency with which it sought to update its obsolete nuclear and missile programs.29 Third, they contended that the combination of these two erroneous convictions had created a climate of crisis in which blanket restrictions on international exchange were being called for. This would be counterproductive and do the United States more harm than good. Tighter controls were thus not the answer to improved security: rather, what was needed was increased funding for R & D, which ensured that the United States always had the technological edge over its rivals. The Committee on Balancing Scientific Openness and National Security took a similar line, “The world is awash in scientific discoveries and technological innovations,” it wrote. “If the United States is to remain the world’s technological leader, it must remain deeply engaged in international dialogue, despite the possibility of the illicit loss of information.”30

This is the background against which the demand for a more rigorous appli­cation of export control regulations was specifically written into Public Law 106-391, NASA’s Authorization Act of2000 that was passed by both the House and the Senate. This act encouraged international cooperation in space explora­tion and scientific activities when it served American interests, and was “carried out in manner consistent with United States export control laws” (Sect 2.6 (B) (iii)). The point on regulation was picked up again later in a section of the act that twinned international cooperation with American competitiveness. After laying down specific recommendations as regards space cooperation with the PRC, the text went on to stipulate (Sect. 126 (3)) that NASA’s inspector general, in consultation with the appropriate agencies of the U. S. government,

shall conduct an annual audit of the policies and procedures of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration with respect to the export of technol­ogies and the transfer of scientific and technical information, to assess the extent to which [the NASA] is carrying out its activities in compliance with Federal export control laws and with paragraph (2) [relating to the PRC].31

NASA had already institutionalized more formalized and systematic procedures for the implementation of export controls in the mid-1990s. P. L. 106-391, however, sent a strong signal that Congress was keeping an eye on the agency to ensure that compliance with ITAR was enforced. The effects have been felt throughout the centers, by NASA contractors such as JPL and by the agency’s international partners.

To summarize. The combined effect of the Strom Thurmond Act, the Cox Report, and P. L.106-391 has been to move export controls in the space sec­tor to the very foreground of NASA and the State Department’s activities in the international domain. To be sure it was already evident in the mid-1990s that NASA’s management of export control needed to be tightened up. The ambiguity over whether or not ITAR or EAR applied to a space-related item was amplified by an internal organization that was fragmented, with different sections dealing more or less independently with the different regulatory sys­tems. A single export control office replaced these in 1994/95. Its importance was fueled by fears that the PRC was gaining ready access to sensitive American defense-related technology. These were generalized by Congress, and embodied in legislation that demanded that NASA and US entities take the restrictions imposed by the ITAR seriously not only in dealings with the PRC but also with traditional allies and partners (subject to some variation for NATO members, for example).

Over the next decade the effects of these restrictions were increasingly felt and resented by NASA’s partners, as well by its contractors and US business. For example, John Schumacher, an associate administrator for external relations at NASA who moved into the aerospace industry in the 1990s, stressed the diffi­culty of deciding if an innovative technology fell under the ITAR or not. Taking the hypothetical example of a nano-ceramic coating for engine blades he noted that neither the firm nor the regulatory authority was sure whether something like this it fell under the ITAR or not. This was particularly frustrating for smaller companies with international clients, like his own, and often led them to “walk back from the edge,” and withdraw from regulation-prone innovative research.

NASA contractors such as JPL are also subject to the ITAR, and have estab­lished their own in-house ITAR office to ensure compliance, and need to estab­lish Technical Assistance Agreements (TAA) before they can provide defense services to their partners. A TAA is a contract between the parties involved in the technology transfer. It references the ITAR, and defines items such as the roles of the contracting parties, what technology and services are covered, who can access the ITAR-controlled technology, restrictions or exemptions on how the technology can be used, and how long a foreign entity can have access to the technology. Even with these procedures in place there can be friction. Robert Mitchell, a project manager on the Cassini-Huygens mission (see chapter 2 ) , explains:

[T]he most common thing that comes up now is a problem with an instru­ment, a European-provided instrument. An example would be the magnetom­eter, which was provided by and still funded and operated by an organization in the U. K. The magnetometer will from time to time have issues in terms of how it interfaces with the onboard main central processor on the Cassini spacecraft, and there frequently are questions about whether the problem is in our computer, or a problem in the interface, or a problem in the instrument. And of those three things, we understand the first two far better than they do, and we understand the third probably not as well as they do, but we know it pretty well. . . Now, for us to give them technical assistance in resolving the problem is clearly prohibited except in the presence of a TAA, and even with that we’ve been cautioned to tread carefully. So when they have a problem— and about once a year they do—we work with them, we get it taken care of, but everybody is very conscious of this issue.32

Charles Elachi, the current director of JPL, sees the effect on interpersonal rela­tionships with colleagues abroad as one of the most distressing feature of the ITAR. It undermines the freewheeling climate of mutual trust and respect that is essential to the success of an international project. As he said in an interview in June 2009:

[T]he bigger impact, in my point of view, was more on the interaction between people, more than actually getting a piece of hardware, because now if we want to talk with the ESA, we have to be careful what we talk about and so on. It’s not an issue of do we send a transistor from the U. S. to Europe, even if that’s a factor. But it’s really the interaction, and, I’m guessing that’s where maybe people like us are unhappy, and that’s where I’m unhappy also about

this thing, because the strength was in building trust and good relationship and exchange of ideas, and that kind of put a limitation on doing that.33

David Southwood, ESA’s then director of science and robotic exploration, was blunter in an interview in 2009: “Those of us who want to cooperate with the United States are frustrated by the level of regulation and nonsense we’re put through, and indeed the problem we face of trying to explain to people that if we really are cooperating we have to have an understanding of what something does in the partner’s piece of equipment.”34

There can be no doubt that the current (August 2012) ITAR regime is trans­forming the dynamics of international collaboration with the United States. It is not doing so simply by placing tight constraints on the hardware that can be shared with partners: as this book has made evident, in the domain of satellites and launchers, the components that can be acquired by others has always been subject to close scrutiny. By reaching deep into the daily workings of even non­military cooperation involving scientists and engineers in academia, government laboratories and industry, the regime is making international collaboration more onerous bureaucratically and more risky institutionally, as well as undermining the trust and mutual respect between people that is so essential to the success of any joint project.

It must be stressed that NASA itself is not as tightly bound by ITAR as is a contractor like JPL. Like its contractors it requires a hardware license to export technology, but unlike them it does not require a TAA to supply defense services to foreign partners once an international agreement is in place (that agreement serves as the TAA).35 The agency has also been engaged for over a decade in discussions with the State Department on ways to improve the implementation of the ITAR, particularly as regards the need for TAAs by its contractors. At the time of writing extensive interagency discussions have also led to major propos­als for export control reform. They are guided by the philosophy that the United States must focus limited resources on the threats that matter most, and put in place streamlined procedures, combined with effective safeguards, to control sensitive items appropriately. It is proposed that commercial satellites be put back on the EAR and be regulated by the Department of Commerce. On one issue there is no reform foreseen: export control policies with respect to the PRC and embargoed countries, like Iran.36

The End of the Cold War and Beyond: Chandrayaan-1

With the end of Cold War and the demise of Soviet Union India had to restruc­ture its foreign policy to meet the emerging geopolitical realities. The Indian political elite began to formulate new recipes to begin closer relations with the United States. India’s economic liberalization in the early 1990s and the momen­tum sustained by successive governments created a conducive environment for a closer relationship between India and the United States. The Clinton administra­tion’s grand strategy of “engagement and enlargement” was favorably received by the Indian political leadership. However, despite these expanding links, the overall political relationship continued to be undermined by the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir and India’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs.

Notwithstanding the controls on technology transfer India went alone or worked with others. It managed to keep a steady pace in developing launch vehi­cles and satellites for India’s domestic economic, commercial, and strategic needs. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV, was followed by the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), a technically upgraded version of PSLV. The architecture of the GSLV included a cryogenic stage that replaced the top two stages of the PSLV. Considering the pound per thrust, these were much more superior to ordinary liquid engines that used other propellant combinations.

The 1998 nuclear weapons tests by India attracted worldwide condemnation and onerous sanctions were imposed on India by the United States and many other developed countries. The United States prohibited trade with a long list of Indian entities and curtailed, for a short time, a broad array of cooperative space initiatives. The geopolitical situation that ensued after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed the situation again and catalyzed closer cooperation between India and the United States.

The Bush administration lifted the sanctions in September 2001 and a frame­work was established through the US-India High Technology Cooperation Group (HTCG) for closer technological cooperation between the two countries. Critical civilian technologies that were once out of bounds—space and nuclear— became tools for improved bilateral relations. Kenneth I. Juster, undersecretary of commerce in June 2004, indicated the various steps that were being taken by the US government to foster closer relations with India. He noted that “since the lifting of the U. S. sanctions in September 2001, only a very small percent­age of our total trade with India is even subject to controls. The vast majority of dual-use items simply do not require a license for shipment to India.” During the fiscal year 2002 (October 2001 through September 2002), 423 license applica­tions for dual-use exports to India, worth around $27 million, were approved by the US government. This was 84 percent of all licensing decisions for India that year. In 2003 the United States approved 90 percent of all dual-use licens­ing applications for India. These actions were indicative of the new strategic partnership with India.92

In March 2005, a US-India Joint Working Group on Civil Space Cooperation was established. The inaugural meeting was held in Bangalore in June 2005. This forum was meant to provide a mechanism for enhanced cooperation in areas including joint satellite activities and launch, space exploration, increased interoperability among existing and future civil space-based positioning and navigation systems, and collaboration on various earth observation projects. At this time a memorandum of understanding was signed for a joint moon mis­sion.93 Called Chandrayaan-1 it was a continuation of the international efforts to study the lunar surface to understand origins and the evolution of the moon.94

The $83 million Chandrayaan-1 had a cluster of eleven instruments, five from the Indian side and six from foreign agencies: three payloads from the European Space Agency (ESA), two from NASA, and one from Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS). The experiments aimed to map and configure the chemical and mineralogical composition of the lunar surface using more enhanced instru­ments than previously attempted. The spacecraft was launched using India’s trusted workhorse, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV)—C11. Its launch weight was 1,380 kilograms. The two instruments sent by NASA were the Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar (MiniSAR) prototype developed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the US Naval Air Warfare Center to look for water/ice in the permanently shaded craters at the lunar poles, and the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3). M3 was an imaging spec­trometer developed at Brown University and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and was designed to assess and map lunar mineral resources at high spatial and spec­tral resolutions.

November 14, 2008, was an historic day for the Indian space program. A Moon Impact Probe (MPI) with the Indian tricolor, representing the national flag painted on its surface, made contact with the lunar soil. The timing of the MPI was coordinated to coincide with the birthday of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, who gave his passionate support to the growth of science and technology—especially nuclear and space sciences. It was a significant moment for NASA too to see the maturation of a space program that it helped to found with the scientific elite in India in the early 1960s.