Category Asian Space Race: Rhetoric or Reality?

West Asia’s Investments in Space Technologies

West Asia (also known as Middle East) is the westernmost portion of Asia. It is a region containing large areas of mountainous terrain and also has major desert regions. Historically, the region is famous for its kingdoms and big cities. Over centuries, the people in various parts of this region are trying to stay independent, but either the invaders or the people within the region have always tried to overpower them. Over the years in this region, the means and methods of power grabbing could have changed, but the basic instinct remains the same. The region has gained importance globally mainly because of the significant availability of the energy sources. During last three to four decades, the region has witnessed few of the major wars fought in the recent history. Presently, the region could be viewed as one of the most unstable regions in the world.

One nuclear and two spacefaring states fall in this region. This chapter elaborates on the space programmes of two spacefaring states and also discusses in brief the investments made by few other important states within the region.

Satellite Systems

Japan has sent various satellites in different categories to the outer space till date, and they have varying roles to play. Information in this regard is available in various sources. The purpose here is not to intend to detail every Japanese satellite that is in orbit but to take a macro view of Japan’s efforts. Like any other spacefaring nation, Japan also has sent satellites basically for the purposes of remote sensing, communication and meteorology.

Normally, it has been observed that the Japanese space agencies tend to give two names to their satellites one in Japanese and other in English. The most interesting (or confusing!) part is that mostly these names are unrelated. One agency NASDA had named satellites after flowers, while in other cases, diverse names have been used. The other interesting aspect is that agency like ISAS had a policy of using the English name before launch, and subsequently, it used to switch to Japanese name after launch but only if the launch is successful!10 In view of this, following paragraphs discuss the Japanese investments into satellites only based mainly on the role for which they are launched and names of satellites are used only at few places where it was found essential.

The early priority for Japan was development of communication services for telephone and television. Over a period of time, satellite systems were put in place which were capable of providing transmission to the areas where reception of clear signal was problematic. Initially much of work was undertaken to provide high-definition television signals. A dedicated series of communications satellites were also launched to support domestic telecommunications, and this entire process further enabled the process of new technology development.

Initially satellite development was carried by buying expertise from abroad. Few launches were also carried out through foreign rockets because of certain limitations of Japanese rockets. Japan being a bit geographically isolated island nation and one periodically affected by typhoons obviously has a need for investments in meteorological satellites. The first meteorological satellite was launched during July 1977 [4, pp. 24-29].

The first few Japanese satellites could be categorised as demonstration or scientific satellites. The payloads were designed to measure ambient temperatures and undertake solar and cosmic radifation measurements and ionosphere and solar activity studies. Also, there was a programme constituting of resources satellites to observe the planet from space in an integrated way. Studies in the recent past

were undertaken for better understanding of global circulation of energy and water. To promote sustainable development, land observing satellite was launched (2006) which helped towards better understanding of cartography, monitoring of natural disasters and surveying land use and natural resources. A series of astronomical satellites were launched to carry out observations of cosmic sources at various wavelengths.11

Asian Navigational Systems

Various Asian states are facing significant social challenges. Management of avail­able resources is an important issue for these states while devising various growth models. They understand the importance for undertaking development which could meet the requirements of the present without harming the interests of future generations. For undertaking ‘sustainable development’, Asian states are acquiring and developing various technologies, and satellite navigation is one amongst them.

In particular, combination of the GPS and the geographic information system (GIS) is being used for geospatial analysis in a variety of contexts ranging from agriculture and environment to resource management and medicine. Satellite navigation has significant security significance too.

As in other fields, in the arena of satellite navigation too, the maximum investments are being made mainly by China, Japan and India. In view of the fact that satellite navigation is a costly technology, these states are making careful investments. Both Indian and Japan are developing the regional navigation satellite system (RNSS), while only China is investing in a global navigation satellite system (GNSS). When viewed under larger geostrategic settings, this indirectly matches with the ambitions of these states indicating that China has global interests and even their investments in satellite navigation clearly implies this. Following paragraphs discuss the specific navigational programmes for three Asian powers.

Strategic Significance of Deep Space Agenda

Taken as a whole, the Moon agenda of these three states portrays a continuing deep space policy. All these years, the space agendas of these three states have largely been application-driven programmes. The major thrust was found towards usage of space technologies for the overall growth. In regard to states like China, the covert agenda of using space technologies as a tool for security has also been obvious. Now, with investments in deep space missions, these states have succeeded in articulating their long-term ambitions for space exploration for strategic purposes. Here, the term strategic should not be viewed with narrow military vision. It could also mean long term too. In the twenty-first century, the term ‘strategic’ has additional meanings associated with diplomacy/international relations as well as economic propositions.

Human exploration of solar system, starting with the Moon could be said to be a definitive open-ended programme. It is often opinioned that the Moon-Mars exploration could be viewed as a long-term, say, 30-year effort, but in reality it should be viewed as an open-ended project [19]. For these three states, it looks that they have clear-cut roadmaps developed at least for their Moon programmes. These states missed the first round of lunar exploration (Apollo era) but with their successful launches have given them a lead (in global context) in the second round of lunar exploration. Competition could be said to be the part of this new Moon race, although it lacks the drama of first Cold War fueled context [20, p. 727].

Overall, the ‘strategic’ interests need to be viewed from the technological, military, international cooperation/competition and economic point of view. The Moon mission which is considered as a major technological marvel will always have the subtext of ‘nationalism’ at the backdrop, and states would exploit it both for tactical as well as strategic political benefits. It is premature to look for direct military applicability of this mission when the overall Moon programme is still in initial stage. Also, to argue that Moon missions of these states are with hidden military agenda would also be incorrect. What is important is that space technology is inherently dual-use technology and Moon missions also need to be analysed from that perspective. Hence, broadly the growth of technology itself could be viewed from a point of view that there could be direct or indirect benefits for military too.

Moon Missions have purposes beyond scientific explorations too. The basic advantage with such ambitious projects is that they help in the development of frontier technologies. Such technologies could in turn find applicability in various other facets of life too including the armed forces. One major aspect for research and development in regard to Moon mission is the development of Deep Space Networks (DSN). Most of the scientific developments undertaken for this are expected to find major applicability in regard to various aspects of data handling.

Additional investments in regard to development of DSN technology would be essential to enable and enhance the next wave of space exploration. This is expected to lead towards development of new types of high-level information services, enabled by high-capacity connectivity [21]. DSN developments are also expected to lead towards increased emphasis on data networking and data processing applications.

First and foremost, the ongoing missions are going to help to increase the world’s digital knowledge about the Moon manifold. It is expected that the state-of-the-art sensors onboard of these three crafts would help to generate huge data sets giving new knowledge about the Moon’s surface (stored in digitised form). This knowledge is going to be of immense importance for further research. Moon missions at this point in time could be said to have undertaken for two primary reasons. One, to check the viability of access to helium-3[259] that is available in abundance over Moon. Here the purpose is not only restricted to helium-3 but to recognise the overall mineral resources availability on the Moon. Second, to make a permanent base over the Moon.[260]

The strategic issues related to Moon and Mars surface bases will be centred on development of enabling technologies, cost of missions and international cooperation. The obvious path for tackling such issues will be through innovative and new means of international cooperation [22]. However, these three missions do not give any indication that a substantial international cooperation is being envisaged. Chandrayan-1 mission could be said to be a mission with some amount of international cooperation. In this mission, half of the sensors onboard Indian craft are from other states.

Now the issue is ‘is the lack of Asian cooperation in this field by default or by design?’ Observers feel that largely the technical and political motivations behind most of the planned missions leave little room for the international scientific community to team up on joint projects [20, p. 724]. It is also important to factor in the dynamics of overall India-China and China-Japan relationship too. It could be too naive to expect these states to shed the histological baggage and j oin hands in this field when otherwise the relationship is not so harmonious. Interestingly, this may not be the case in regard to missions on Mars. There are indications that the states are interested in bilateral or multilateral collaboration in regard to missions to Mars, but not within the region. There are proposals like China collaborating with Russia for the Mars mission. States may have their own rationale behind this. It could be that states feel that ‘race for resources’ in regard to Mars is not a financially and technologically viable proposal. Also, Moon is being viewed as a gateway to Mars, so if Moon is within a reach, then activities for Mars could be controlled. On the other hand, joint collaborations for Mars missions could help transfer of technology which could be used for Moon missions.

Most of the solar system is inhospitable to humans. States will probably never attempt to visit Mercury and Venus or venture to Jupiter and beyond. The ‘welcome mat’ is out only with Moon, Mars and the asteroids [23]. If mankind has to choose another planet to live on, the best choice is Mars because of its natural environment, which is similar to that of Earth [3]. Hence, at some point of time, states are likely to factor in the Mars missions in their overall security calculus. It needs to be remembered that having human colonies on Mars may take another 100-200 years, and hence presently states are not in a hurry to contextualise Mars in their strategic planning. Since reaching Moon is viewed as the first step for the Mars, probably at this point of time, states are self-centred in their Moon agenda but are keeping an open mind in regard to Mars.

Currently, the major military benefits states could get from the deep space agenda are expected to come from the DSN technology and the robotic technology. The composition of future missions depicts that states would be operating robots on the Moon’s surface for the purpose of mineral analysis. The entire mission would be controlled from the Earth. Already, missions on similar lines have been undertaken successfully particularly over the Mars by the USA. The military logic emerging from experimentation is simple—if you can operate a robot on the Moon, you can always operate it in the enemy state or on the battlefield. The issue could only be that of the size and role of the robot. Future warfare is expected to see significant usage of robotic technology in various forms, and the robots developed for Moon mission could get modified for the purposes of military usage. The radar networks developed for Moon/Mars missions could help the states in their intelligence gathering mechanisms. C4ISR capabilities of the states could undergo a revolution with the availability of high-speed data networking and data processing facilities. The strategic materials being developed for these missions could change the face of platform technology and future military platforms like aircrafts, tanks, ships and submarines are expected to be more robust but extremely lightweight.

Once the Moon is conquered and the resources fall in the hands of these limited few states, then the world could get divided into two groups: one the state with Moon presence and other without. At that point of time, these three states would be approached by the have-nots for getting an access to the Moon’s wealth. This could bestow on them international collaborations on their terms and larger economic benefits would follow. Also, the technological leadership of the world (in few areas) could go in the hands of these states.

Asia’s overall considered judgment for deep space should not be viewed in isolation. It is also important to factor in the USA’s position in this discussion, it being the only state to have successfully undertaken manned Moon flights, have programmes for Mars and have various plans for future in deep space region.

Space exploration in the twenty-first century may not hold the same strategic logic of the 1960s, but this does not mean that the strategic significance evaporates totally. However, the USA probably is trying to downplay the strategic significance of Moon/Mars in the present era. In 1961, the then defence secretary had mentioned that the Apollo programme was ‘part of the battle along the fluid front of the Cold

War’. But, now in his January 14, 2004, speech the then President George Bush argued that the current Moon exploration initiative should be seen as a ‘part of a journey and not a race’.[261]

The USA is generally of the view that they have already achieved much in this field almost four decades back and the new players are just trying to imitate them only now. But, this appears to be their official position. They fully understand that the purpose behind their Moon missions during the 1960s and the missions of the day are entirely different.

Few in the USA view that their state cannot lag behind in this new Moon race. As per NASA’s Chief Mr Michael Griffin (Apr 2005 to Jan 2009), ‘If China were to achieve this before the return of a manned American spacecraft to the Moon for the first time since 1972, the bare fact of accomplishment will have enormous, and not fully predictable, effects on global perceptions on the US leadership in the world’. As per Washington Post, this comment was part of the draft of the statement prepared by Mr Griffin to submit to congress but was subsequently deleted.[262]

Generally, it has been observed that NASA’s opinion on Moon and Mars programme does have a nationalistic character. The October 2006 announcement of the new national US space policy and the USAF’s ‘Strategic Master Plan for FY 2006 and Beyond’ designates space as an ‘ultimate high ground of US Military operations’.32 The overall US policies all these years indicate that they give substantial importance to space technologies in their strategic planning and same would be the case with their deep space thinking.

Moon has potential to various ‘utilities’: a base for geological study, a platform for astronomy, a laboratory to study the long-term effects of reduced gravity on humans, a test bed for future manned missions to Mars, or even a launch pad for unmanned craft on their way to the outer reaches of solar system [24]. More importantly, Moon offers achievable options in regard to energy security and replenishment of minerals on the Earth’s surface. Naturally, the USA would not like to miss the Moon bus and would make all efforts to be the first in every related field. Japan, China and India understand the US dilemma in regard to the Moon. Japan and India may engage them in their Moon journey, at least in token form. On the other hand, China feels that they should catch the opportunity before the global programme of returning to the Moon take-offs in full swing [20, p. 726]. The USA was part of India’s first Moon mission and credit for finding the water on the Moon’s surface goes jointly to the Indo-US team. States like the USA and Russia could take advantage of the Asian states developing the platforms to reach to the Moon/Mars. They could simply cooperate with them and send their sensors on such platforms to gather the information for future use.


Japan, China and India’s drive to explore the Moon (and to a certain extent Mars) depicts the case of deep space ambition supported by sound technological investments. These states are no novice in the space field, and their entry into the deep space area looks a logical progression of their space agenda. They all have successfully finished their first Moon missions, and their overall planning for the future demonstrates that the construction of lunar base is probably not too far (may be another two to three decades) beyond their technological capabilities. Today, they have successfully put together strategic, technological and commercial aspects of their space agenda in furthering their deep space agenda. Their Moon and other deep space ambitions signify that they propose to transform the unipolar world with multiple power centres and are using space technology (particularly deep space missions) as one of the components to do so.

In the post Cold War era, national security is seen more in terms of technological and economic strengths. Military capability in many cases is a by-product of technological and economic strengths of a state. For rapidly growing economies like India and China, access to cheap energy is vital. Strategically, it’s incorrect to depend on any single source of energy, and also the energy sources are finite. Hence, these states are looking for multiple answers to resolve the issue of energy security, and one of the basic purposes behind Moon mission is to examine the possibility of the usage of helium-3 as an energy source.

The end of Cold War and particularly after September 11, 2001, WTC attacks, it is articulated that conflicts amongst nation-states are on decline and in future interstate wars would be a rarity. However, the geostrategic realities of the region indicate that India would continue to face threat from Pakistan (both overt and covert). China and India have fought a war just four decades back, and Japan is concerned about the activities of North Korea which has also tactic support of China in some respect. Also, Japan-China relationship is less than cordial. Naturally, the security apprehensions with South Asia and East Asia will keep these states involved towards continuously upgrading their defence infrastructure (may not be true in real sense in respect of Japan). Moon mission could allow them to enhance their overall power status.

The resources on Earth are insufficient, and Moon could become a source for their accumulation in future. Today, these states are investing in the Moon with full understanding that the Moon has merits beyond scientific realm. They understand that the development of frontier technologies for their Moon missions will lead to huge developments in science, and these developments would have signifi­cant strategic utility. The world is gaining considerably through its multinational internationalf space station project. These states understand the value of such joint collaborations but at least for now are going ‘solo’. Probably, they are attempting to evaluate the exact strategic relevance of such missions and think that international collaborations can always wait.

Conversely, these states cannot remain divorced from the effects of global events. In this era of global economic recession, it may be difficult for them to sustain funding for such high-value projects. But, looking at the long-term benefits of such missions and the status associated, it looks unlikely that the rulers from these states would meddle with such missions. They would attempt to develop various mechanisms for fund raising. Prevailing economic conditions could delay few projects but in totality the political support from the projects is not expected to diminish. Presently, the USA is developing an agenda of leaving the Moon mission completely to the privet industry. President Obama is not keen to continue to support the US Mars mission. As per his plans revealed during Feb 2012, his government is expected to reduce the funding to NASA. This in turn could hamper the deal between the USA and ESA to cooperate on Mars robotic rover missions in 2016 and 2018. Asian states could sense an opportunity over here and may decide to cooperate with the ESA to carry forward their Mars agenda.

Overall, the debate on Mars appears to be bit ambiguous. In somewhat contrast to the Moon, the approach towards conquering Mars appears to be somewhat diffused at present, both in global context and to certain extend in Asian context with probably the exception of China. Both technological challenges and financial challenges could be the key impediment towards this. Also, there is less amount of clarity about exactly what the expectations from Mars should be. In general, apart from scientific achievements, the states understand the importance of Mars mission for the development of space industrial base and capabilities. Also, various new technologies developed for the purposes of Mars mission could become part of revolution in military affairs (RMA) architecture. Based on the current trend, there is a general global perception about manned missions to Mars becoming a reality by 2030/2040. In Asia, the current trends denote that China could achieve such feet provided various other related issues working in its favour. It is expected that the geopolitical discourse of tomorrow would involve ‘mission to Mars’ as major component to judge the national prestige as well as a paradigm for international collaboration.

The investments made by Japan, China and India towards Moon programme have also raised global interests in the Moon. It is likely that in future, the Americans and the European Union could also make significant investments towards exploring Moon and Mars, and already some of their plans have started taking shape. In short, Asia would compel the West to revive the deep space agenda.

International Cooperation

International collaboration has been the key for the initial success in space field for Asian states, and even today, it plays an important role. During initial years, Japan was helped by the USA, and China was helped by USSR/Russia towards development of their space programmes. For India, the help came from different quarters—France, USA to erstwhile USSR. Other countries in the region are being helped by countries within and outside the region. Presently, all major space players in Asia are having collaborations with Russia, USA and the EU.

China and EU have developed significant cooperation. On May 24, 2007, both sides signed China-EU Space Cooperation Actuality and Cooperative Plan Protocol, which stipulates distinctly the fields and direction of cooperation. They have established four work groups, that is, Science and Exploration Work Group, Microgravity Work Group, Education Work Group and Earth Observation Work Group. They have various other arrangements too.[330] However, it is also important to note that some of the very important collaborative ventures like the China’s collaboration with EU’s global navigational project Galileo have not worked in spite of the bests of efforts and commitments. With the success of Indo-US nuclear deal, collaborations between India and USA are expected to increase multifold in space arena. Human space flights, deep space missions and asteroid studies are expected to be the future areas of collaborations. During October 2011, India has launched a satellite called Megha-Tropiques in collaboration with France.

Russia is already collaborating with India and China for the Moon and Mars missions. Success of such missions and the importance of information gathered could decide the nature of further collaborations. The case in point is that the success achieved by Indian Chandrayaan-1 mission in finding water on the Moon’s surface in collaboration with NASA. Initially, NASA was not interested in India’s second Moon mission, but now, they are keen to get associated to further their research in this arena.

Other Asian states which have started late are keen to get outside assistance to develop their own space programmes. Iran is receiving tactic support from China and Russia. Pakistan is relatively a weak player in space arena and is dependent on support mainly from China. In SE Asia, aggressive investments are being made by the USA and China. As per industry estimates, by 2011-2012, over US$2 billion worth of new satellites may be launched over Asian region. SE Asia is expected to offer a major portion of this business. The USA has already launched satellites for Vietnam and has sealed deals with Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines backed by loan guarantees. China has promised to build and launch a communications satellite for Laos. In 2009, it signed an agreement with Pakistan, granting a $200 million loan for satellite construction. It would also be establishing ground control segments for them at Lahore and Karachi.[331] During August 2011, China has launched the Pakistan’s first communications satellite.

Appreciating the requirement of multilateral engagement, few Asian states have joined together to form Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO). This organisation has started its operations in Beijing during December 2008, 16 years after the idea was put forward. It has seven member states, China, Bangladesh, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru and Thailand. Indonesia and Turkey have also signed the APSCO convention. Representatives from Argentina, Malaysia, the Philippines, Russia and Sri Lanka also attended the founding ceremony. The organisation aims to promote the multilateral cooperation in space science and technology. Its members will work together in development and research, space technology application and training of space experts.11 Such multilateral cooperation could help the members from SE Asian region in getting a greater access to technology allowing them to exploit natural resources and help in disaster reduction. Such grouping has a potential to develop into a major pressure group. States like India and Japan are having few collaborative projects with states in the region but are still far away from using satellite technology as a tool for increasing their regional influence. A state like India appears to be a slow starter in regard to using their space expertise for the purposes of political engagement. A case in point could be the case of Sri Lanka. This India’s neighbour is taking the help of a private company in UK to design and build its first satellite. This agreement was signed during November 2009 [3]. The current trend indicates that the USA and China could play a major

role in the region at least for next few decades and would garner both economic and geopolitical benefits.

In contrast, the development of space technology in Asia during the 1970s to the 1990s remained restricted because of the policies of the USA. It had used economic and technological disability of Asian states to its advantage. As mentioned earlier, states like India faced technological apartheid because of sanctions regime. Japan also received a raw deal from its ally, the USA [4]. Japan’s dream of indigenous satellite development programme did not materialise initially because of the US policies. There was a dispute between the US administration and Japan regarding the so-called unfair trade practices followed by Japan which in turn was bringing difficulties for the US industry to penetrate Japanese market [5]. The USA was not keen to allow Japan to develop their indigenous capabilities at the cost of the US industry interests.

However, in the twenty-first century, it is unlikely that major space powers would hold themselves back from cooperating with Asian countries anymore. There could be various reasons for it. First, financial constraints, with the decline in the economy of the West, for NASA or ESA, it may not be possible to fund major independent space projects. Hence, they could engage states like India and Japan for collaborative ventures. In fact, the abrupt end of US space shuttle programme without an alternative has made analysts to suggest that they could take help from China in future for space visits of their astronauts [6]. This could allow them to reduce the dependence on Russia in regard to ISS programme. However, the real challenge in this case would be of geopolitical arithmetic. Second, access to key global natural resources and commodities on other planets is likely to be the one of the important future space agendas. Apart from having requisite ‘hardware’ in place to do so, a need could arise to have some global consciences on this issue, and having ‘dependent’ space powers could become an advantage. Third, for economic reasons, Asian market offers good business opportunities.

The uncertainty factor in the likely engagements of Asian states could emerge from scenarios like Iran or Japan conducting nuclear tests or India undertaking an ASAT creating huge space debris.


Iran is an ancient country which experienced two full-scale revolutions in the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, this state has been looked with ‘interest’ by many particularly because of its nuclear and anti-West policies. Obviously, Iran’s policies have important security implications both at regional and global levels. Iran is fully aware of its geostrategic importance and significance of its oil economy for the rest of the world. The state is found formulating its economic, political and strategic policies firmly, precisely and with full awareness of these circumstances.

As per the report published, Science-Metrix—a Montreal-based company ded­icated to the quantitative and qualitative evaluation and measurement of science, technology and innovation—in 2010 ‘geopolitical shifts in knowledge creation’ is taking place. Since 1980, the standard growth in the West Asia, particularly in Iran

A. Lele, Asian Space Race: Rhetoric or Reality?, DOI 10.1007/978-81-322-0733-7_3, 29

© Springer India 2013

and Turkey, is found nearly four times faster than the world average, and Iran is showing fastest worldwide growth in science. Iran’s publications have somewhat emphasised on nuclear chemistry and particle physics; the country has also made significant progress in medical science agriculture development, stem cell and cloning research. The published work also covers field of aerospace technologies.1

It is interesting to note that despite political tensions between the USA and Iran, scientific collaboration has proven surprisingly resilient. Between the periods 1996— 2002 to 2004-2008, co-authored papers between these two countries increased from just 388 papers to 1,831 papers, an increase of 472%. Following the Iranian elections in June 2009, Iranian scientists called out to the international research community to ‘do everything possible to promote continued contact with colleagues in Iran, if only to promote detente between Iran and the West when relations are contentious’.[9] [10]

Iran has been keen to develop space technology for many years. Its interests in technical as well as arms control issues related to space sciences and technologies go back to late 1950s. It was 1 of the 24 founding members of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) during 1959 and has also signed the Outer Space Treaty (OST) in late 1960s.

The history of Iran’s space efforts and its drive to pursue independent space projects began during the Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, king of Iran’s (1941­1979) time. During Shah’s reign in 1977, an idea was mooted to establish an Iranian communications satellite system. In addition, several Iranian organisations were involved in plans to send small research satellites into space that would pave the way for launching a military intelligence-gathering satellite. However, not much of activity took place for almost two decades in this regard. By 1997, few reports originated giving details of a Russian-Iranian agreement on the transfer of technology enabling Iran to build its own research satellite. The name of the proposed satellite, Mesbah (variously translated as ‘dawn’, ‘lighthouse’ and ‘flashlight’), was announced in 1999. Few were of the opinion that actually a spy satellite launch has been planned [1]. Iran had plans of launching three satellites by 2002-2003; however, it took 6 more years to become a spacefaring nation.

Iran’s first satellite called Sinah-1 was launched on October 28, 2005, by Russia from the Plesetsk Space Center. It was reported that on August 17, 2008, Iran had attempted to launch a dummy satellite by using the two-stage rocket called Safir, but the rocket had failed shortly after liftoff. Within 6 months on Feb 3, 2009, Iran successfully launched its first domestically manufactured satellite ‘Omid’ (Hope), which was carried into space by the Safir-2 space rocket. Since both the launcher and the satellite were made in Iran and also the launch was carried out form Iranian soil, it could be said that Iran achieved the status of the spacefaring nation on that day.

As discussed elsewhere in this book, Iranian effort to advance its space pro­gramme is generally being viewed as a case of using civil space programme clandestinely to manufacture longer-range missiles and also to indirectly demon­strate their missile capability. During the year 2000, the then Iranian Defense Minister, Ali Shamkhani had announced that Iran was investing in space technology to strengthen the country’s deterrence capabilities. He had mentioned that “we are also investing in production of that military equipment that, with minimum cost, can have maximum effects on our deterrence capabilities. In fact we are investing in [our access] to space technology or its prerequisite field like missile technology by improving the range, accuracy, and destruction power of missiles. This is one of our main aims [2].” However, the overall progress made by Iran post-2009 onwards indicates that Iran has interest in developing its space programme too (could be for civil and military applications), and it could be incorrect to view their space programme only as covert means to demonstrate their missile capabilities.

Eight years of Iran-Iraq conflict (September 1980 to August 1988) had played a major role for significantly corrupting Iran’s various socioeconomic structures. Naturally, after the end of conflict in order to rebuild the state, Iran started making efforts at social, political and economic levels. Reformist leaders like Muhammad Khatami helped the country to view space power capabilities as a vehicle for modernity. Iran’s vision in regard to its ambitions in space could be judged from the goals enumerated at a 2002 UNCOPUOS meeting. Promoting international cooperation based on concepts of joint benefits and commercialisation of space programme appears to be the key focus of the Iran’s space agenda.[11] Iran apparently attempted to meet some of the above-noted goals starting in April 2003. The legislature approved a bill to create the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) to serve as a policy-formulating organisation for space initiatives. The ISA performs research on remote sensing projects and coordinates various space-related activities within the country.[12]

Iran’s international collaboration with few states appears to have helped towards development of its space programme. Post 1995, Iran was reported to be working together with a number of Asian countries in constructing a small research satellite.

The cooperation in Small Multi-Mission Satellite (SMMS) project was jointly signed by China, Iran, Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan and Thailand on April 22,1998, in Bangkok. Bangladesh joined the programme in 1999. Subsequently, till 2005 various project committee meetings were held. It has been reported that China, Thailand and Iran were working on a joint Small Multimission Spacecraft (SMMS) devoted to civilian remote-sensing and communications experiments.[13] Probably, the aim was to provide Iran and Pakistan a semi-autonomous space-imaging capability. No further details about this project are available; however, active participation by Iran should have given it the exposure and access to various related technologies.

A locally produced satellite Rasad-1 (Observation-1) satellite was launched by Iran during June 2011. This was Iran’s second independently launched satellite and by using the same Saflr rocket used for the first launched. This LEO satellite was placed into orbit 260 km above the Earth, and it beams back to earth pictures with 150-m resolution.

The Safir is the first Iranian expendable launch system meant to place a satellite into the orbit. In February 2008, Iran launched a sounding rocket into outer space to mark the opening of its first space centre.[14] This rocket essentially belonged to the ‘category’ of instrument-carrying crafts. Such crafts are designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during their suborbital flight. A suborbital test flight, named Kavoshgar-1, was conducted on February 4, 2008. As per experts, Kavoshgar-1 bores a close resemblance to Iran’s longer-range missile Shahab-3. Iranian officials have declared that Kavoshgar-1 used a two-stage rocket. Iran had launched Kavoshgar-2, which carried a space-lab and a restoration system in November 2008. The Kavoshgar-3 was launched on February 3, 2010, with one rodent, two turtles and several worms into suborbital space and returned them to Earth alive. Subsequently, Iran had announced to carry a monkey into the space. On March 15, 2011, the Kavoshgar-4 rocket carrying the capsule designed to carry a live monkey was launched, but there were no living creatures on board. Later it was acknowledged by Iran that the Kavoshgar-5 rocket carrying a capsule with a live animal (a monkey) and the mission was launched during Shahrivar, an Iranian calendar month spanning August 23 to September 22,2011, but the mission failed.[15]

On February 3, 2012, Iran successfully launched a new domestically manufac­tured satellite called Navid (Herald). It has been manufactured by Iran University of Science and Technology. It was sent into space aboard the Safir rocket. The satellite weighs about 50 kg in weight and is designed to collect data on weather conditions and monitor for natural disasters. It has advanced control technology, a higher resolution camera and photocells to generate power. Iran also proposes to

launch two more domestically designed satellites dubbed Fajr (Dawn) and Tolou (Sunrise) in near future.[16]

Iran has various plans for future to launch reconnaissance and communication satellites of different make. Italy was building a telecommunication satellite for Iran called Mesbah,[17] and Russia was expected to launch it. However, both the states have gone back on their promise probably due to the sanctions issue. Tehran is keen to receive the satellite from Italy because it is now confident that it could launch this satellite by using own rocket launcher. However, having understood the geopolitical compulsions, Iran has also begun construction of a derivative of the Italian satellite called Mesbah-2. Iran’s ambitions are not limited towards launching satellites only, and the state has announced that they propose putting a man in orbit space by 2019 and also propose to undertake a manned moon mission by 2025.

Iran has also plans to establish a national satellite launch base in the southeast of the country, adjacent to the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered his cabinet to approve the plan and earmark funding for the project.[18]

Iran’s public articulation about its future plans in space arena indicates that there is clarity about its space roadmap for future and the state intends to become a leading space power by 2020-2025. Post 2008, Iran has successfully undertaken two independent satellite launches. Iranian authorities over the years have claimed that their satellite programme is meant for scientific research and exploiting its civilian utility. However, the Iranian space programme is a growing source of international unease. States like the USA, the UK, France and Israel have reacted negatively to the Iranian satellite launch capability. In their view, Iran’s space capability implicitly demonstrates that Iran is inching closer towards ballistic missile capability. They feel that along with its covert nuclear weapon programme, Iran is simultaneously working towards developing technology for delivering nuclear weapons. In overall assessment till now, Iran has successfully demonstrated rudimentary space launch capabilities. Iran’s second satellite the Rasad-1 weighs around 50 kg. This clearly indicates that Iran is yet to produce a launcher comparable to the power and sophistication of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Iran appears to be following a twofold agenda of developing satellite systems with dual use utility. Satellites meant for the reconnaissance and telecommunica­tions have both civilian and military usages. However, such investments by Iran cannot be challenged because every other spacefaring nation has similar benefits. At the same time, a direct correlation exists between Iran’s (covert) nuclear ambitions and the gains which they are expected to receive for their ballistic missile programme from the satellite-launching systems. From Iran’s point of view, nuclear and space arena are directly related to their national pride. Looking at their present level of development in the space arena, it looks unlikely that Iran could realise its stated ambition of manned moon mission within next 10-15 years. However, a space visit for an Iranian astronaut could not be ruled out particularly if China offers Iran a trip to their space station. As of 2012, Iran could be viewed as a late entrant but moderately progressing actor in this field. Iran’s nuclear ambitions when seen in unison with its investments in space clearly signify their strategic interest and intentions.

Space Indigenization and the US Policies

Japan’s space programme initially revolved around technology imported from the United States [9]. In 1969, Japan and the United States signed an agreement allowing the transfer of unclassified technology for launch vehicles from US firms to Japan (re-exporting of this technology was not permitted) [5]. Dependence on the US firms was found not only with the launcher technology but also in regard to some elements of satellite fabrication.

Japan’s dream of indigenous satellite development programme could not be materialised initially because of the US policies. The US administration was of the opinion that the Japanese authorities were following unfair trade practices which is bringing difficulties for the US industry to penetrate Japanese market. The three basic reasons for subsequent Japanese space ‘apartheid’ at the hands of the US could be: First, the trade sense during 1980s—the USA strongly objected to the proposed Japanese government assistance (in form of concessions) to Japanese firms in satellite development. It even threatened ‘Super 301’[118] [119] sanctions against Japan if it went ahead with its plans in this area in the 1980s. Japan buckled under to this pressure. Second, the USA got worried that if Japan starts building its own satellites, then one day eventually it could end up developing its own military infrastructure leaving the US alliance framework. Third, the USA feared that the Japanese development of surveillance satellites might compromise the US policy of greater cooperation between Japan and them towards the development of missile defence [10].

Perhaps, the formulation of US-Japan satellite procurement agreement where the Japanese Government agreed for procurement procedures for non-R&D satellites that are open, transparent and non-discriminatory has adversely impacted the growth of the Japanese satellite industry.[120] But, alternatively, it also created the work for the Japanese satellite industry mainly by offering R & D contracts. Overall, the Japanese response to US pressure was not found very strategic. Under the US pressure, Japan shifted to international cooperation, abandoning the autonomous development policy it had sought for almost 40 years [11]. For a technologically developed state like Japan, such approach has affected adversely in regard to the process of indigenisation. However, the Japanese space programme should not be viewed as a programme fully controlled by the USA. On their own, the Japanese have made attempts to follow their independent path.

The USA was almost forced to support publicly the Japan’s surveillance satellites programme when Japan announced autonomously that it would develop such capabilities. Subsequently, the USA took a stand that Japan should purchase satellites from them but later compromised with an agreement that some US-made components would be incorporated in the domestically produced system [10]. The period of 1980s saw Japan looking for more indigenisation of space programme with some dependence on the USA in regard to supply of few components. Japan could indigenously develop its own launcher (H-2) by 1994.

In 1996, a new 15-year space plan was published called Fundamental Policy of Japan’s Space Activities. This advocated the requirement for pursuing space policy by encouraging private sector interest in the space. Over the years, Japanese business people are seen interested in development of various space activities. This is demonstrated by the presence of the Federation of the Economic Organizations (Keidanren) on a council for promotion of space activities. Also, traditional strong relations between manufacturers and research institutes and universities which are partly funded by business houses have played a role towards greater coherence. Their space industry is built up upon the experience of big electronic firms of yesteryears [12].


Japan has a two-pronged approach to satellite navigation. First, to make use of the globally available US GPS System by incorporating additional features to make it more accurate and applicable for their area of interest and secondly, to develop a regional network of own satellites.

The topography and terrain of Japan does not permit the GPS signals to penetrate every portion of the country, resulting in the underperforming of the GPS system. In this nation of mountains and skyscrapers, at times the strength of signals gets depleted, and navigation systems particularly those used on the ground in various types of vehicles are found ineffective. To augment the strength of GPS, Japan has developed the MSAS (MTSAT[206] Satellite-based Augmentation System). It is essentially an overlay system for increasing the accuracy of the GPS navigation by transmitting differential information.[207] This system was conceived during the 1990s, and the first satellite MTSAT-1 was launched in 1999; however, there was a launch failure of H2 launch vehicle. The MTSAT system is designed to consist of one or two satellites, depending on the time frame and two Ground Earth Stations (GES) per MTSAT.

Finally, the first satellite in the MSAS space segment, MTSAT-1R, went into orbit in 2005. Japan launched its second Multifunctional Transport Satellite (MTSAT-2) on February 18, 2006, thus opening a new phase of precision air navigation and air traffic control (ATC) over the western Pacific Ocean. This five-ton satellite is the

heaviest ever launched by Japan and is operating in a circular geostationary orbit. The on-board transponders of this satellite offer another link for Japan’s MSAS, relaying differential GPS corrections and integrity messages to suitably equipped users. One interesting feature of this satellite is that being a multifunction satellite, first the meteorological payload of MTSAR-1R was operational for five years, and later during July 2010 meteorological payload of MTSAT-2 became prime which was earlier placed into standby mode (summer of 2006) until the end of 5 years. The system is supposed to seize off in 2015/2016.

The major beneficiaries of the MSAS are the aircraft operating on routes across the Pacific. The improved navigation accuracy and associated communication links allow the planes to operate close together along the most travelled routes. In addition to the GPS navigation data, MSAS provides data links to and from ATC control centres and facilitates the automatic transmission of aircraft locations to controllers when they are out of the range of ground-based ATC radars. In addition to the L-band GPS broadcasts, MTSAT provides voice and data communications over Ku- and Ka-band frequencies. This satellite also provides weather-related inputs.[208]

In 2000, Japanese Regional Navigation Satellite System (JRANS) concept was developed by the Japanese industry and was discussed and debated with the government representatives as well as the US government and industry personnel. Its purpose was to satisfy current and future operational requirements and assure full compatibility and interoperability with GPS.

After much deliberation during 2003, Japan has started a new project of Quasi­Zenith Satellite System (QZSS). This system consists of three satellites meant to provide a regional satellite positioning service as well as communication and broadcasting services. The configuration is such that each satellite is in three different orbit planes, which are obtained by inclining the geostationary orbit (GEO) by about 45°. At least one satellite is expected to stay around the zenith for about eight hours and would be visible with a higher elevation angle in mid-latitude area (e. g. at least 80° in Tokyo) than in case of using a satellite in GEO. This characteristic would be beneficial for large cities with several tall buildings which block the signal from satellites in GEO. This would vastly improve the satellite positioning and mobile communication services.[209]

The project is devised as a public-private partnership. The proposal is to develop a programme in a two-phase build-up of quasi-zenith (QZO), then another quasi­zenith and geostationary orbiting satellites (QZO and GEO). Phase one will have three satellites in quasi-zenith orbit, and Phase two will have four satellites in QZO andGEO [2].

Currently, Phase one of this project is underway. In QZSS, satellites are meant to orbit in a figure of eight patterns over Japan and the East Asian region. They would

be at a high elevation angle over Japan. This would make extra positioning signals available in urban Japan. The first of the QZSS satellites (known as Michibiki) was successfully launched in September 2010. The full operational status is expected by 2013.[210]

Michibiki (a name that means ‘guidance’ in Japanese) operates from an altitude of about 40,000 km. Japan has developed this satellite as a multipurpose satellite for aircraft, tsunami detection and ground traffic management. But the Michibiki alone cannot be the solution. As mentioned earlier, each satellite would be above Japan for about 8 h each day; hence, all three satellites are required for 24-h coverage.

Japan has a cooperative agreement with the USA since 1998 for use of GPS for civilian purposes. This was reviewed on January 13, 2011. During this meeting, the extent of cooperation was extended to include Japan’s Multifunctional Transport Satellite (MTSAT), Satellite-based Augmentation System (MSAS) and Quasi­Zenith Satellite Systems (QZSS).[211] Japan’s policy appears to be to develop its own regional system and also have maximum benefits from the GPS.

Militarisation and Weaponisation

Space is playing a growing role in military activities across the globe. The 1991 Gulf War has played a significant role towards showcasing and popularising the relevance of space technologies in the military campaigns. Amongst the various satellites orbiting the Earth, some are being used for specific military purposes. However, almost all satellites have certain capabilities which could be exploited for security purposes in some form or other. This is possible because of the dual­use nature of technologies. Hence, civilian satellites could be optimally utilised for enhancing the war-fighting capability of the armed forces.

Various spacefaring nations from Asia have demonstrated their abilities in regard to communications, remote sensing, weather monitoring, navigation and reconnaissance. Many satellites belonging to Asian states are operational in space and are carrying out such tasks essentially for civilian purposes. All these activities could also find their place in security domain too. The various military campaigns in the twenty-first century be it Afghanistan (2001) or Iraq (2003) have suitably demonstrated the advantage the space assets offer both in tactical as well as strategic phases of war. States have used remote sensing satellite systems mainly for reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering purposes. While navigational satellites could be used for guiding weapons systems for accurate engagement of targets. Communication satellites could be effectively used for military communication purposes with due diligence. Hence, satellite systems are found getting key focus for military activities both globally and to a certain extant in Asia too. On the other hand, the antisatellite (ASAT) systems and jamming technologies are also being tested by few states (overtly and covertly), raising fears about the likely weaponisation of the space. This chapter outlines some of the investments made of Asian states towards militarisation of space. This chapter also debates the issues related to and weaponisation of space.

A. Lele, Asian Space Race: Rhetoric or Reality?, DOI 10.1007/978-81-322-0733-7_13, © Springer India 2013

Tool for Socioeconomic Development

One of the major foci of Asian states is to develop space programmes for the purposes of socioeconomic development. Their requirements have been in areas of meteorology, communication, disaster management and remote sensing. This technology becomes a powerful tool for resources management, food security, fisheries, rural development, health care and education. Japan-China-India have achieved much of the success in all these fields and are expected to make further improvements in their existing sensor technologies. They are likely to own enhanced imaging capability in near future. With issues related to climate change taking a centre stage, the future satellites would be launched for continuous observation to

monitor global warming and climate change. In 2009, Japan launched a satellite (‘Ibuki’) for monitoring greenhouse gases around the world. India is also planning to launch by 2012 a satellite to monitor greenhouse gas emissions.12 States like China and India which have become global ‘punching bags’ on the subject of climate change would require to have own systems in space for monitoring climate change. This may also allow them to challenge false claims (if any) against them by the western world. It is important to note that space technology could help in to bring transparency in the system.

The states in Asia are presently at varying levels of proficiency regarding the use of space for broadcasting, communications, meteorology and mapping. They are found using either their homebuilt or other foreign satellites in conjunction with their own ground stations [7]. In near future, space novice Asian states would mostly depend on powers like USA, Russia, EU and China for their requirements. On the whole, for all states in Asia, satellite technology is expected to continue to play an important role as a tool for socioeconomic development. Role of technology is expected to increase significantly in the field of data monitoring for weather observations, climate change and for the purposes of disaster management.