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India, US join hands in space

India and US will soon sign a crucial space launch agreement to allow India to launch US-made satellites not just from US but from other countries that use American components in their satellites. The understanding will help India’s premier space body, ISRO, boost its earnings. Some last-minute refinements in the agreement are being worked out relating to pre-launch treatment of US satellites on Indian rockets. But these, say top sources, are procedural issues, which both sides expect to be sorted out at the next meeting of the space working group.

India has already accepted two US payloads for the Chandrayaan mission. More such joint endeavours are now expected, and together with that, closer exchange of strategic space technologies. ISRO chief Madhavan Nair, who travelled to Washington recently with the Indian Prime Minister, returned with three of ISRO’s key facilities taken out of the US Entities List. Of special interest was the removal of the Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) and ISRO Inertial Systems Unit (IISU). Earlier in September 2004, seven facilities had been taken off the list. Once the space pact comes through, India will have a good chance to pitch for commercial satellite launch projects, because there are only three others in this business — France, Russia and China.