BENGALURU: As part of New Delhi’s space diplomacy, a tool the foreign ministry has been trying to wield as part of its neighbourhood-first policy to counter China’s influence in the region, India will set up five large ground stations and more than 500 small terminals in five neighbouring countries – Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Apart from boosting regional cooperation, the move to set up tracking and receiving centres will also help put in place strategic Indian assets on their soil. These stations and terminals will help put in place applications ranging from television broadcasting to telephony and internet, disaster management and telemedicine. Isro meanwhile can use these ground stations to communicate with its own satellites.
Sources said the first of the five ground stations, coming up in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu, will be ready for commissioning on January 9, and may be inaugurated as early as January 15. “We have an Indian firm, Alpha Design Technologies, implementing the project, which will also see 100 VSATs (Very Small Aperture Terminals) connected to the ground station, taking for the first time TV broadcasting to many remote areas in Bhutan,” the source said. The station in Thimphu is seen as India’s counter to the satellite tracking infrastructure created by China in Tibet.
A similar project in Afghanistan is set to come up later.
The infrastructure is being created as an extension of the South Asia Satellite launched on May 5, 2017. “The MEA and Isro are very serious about this mission, and Isro is committed to provide all support,” said Isro chairman Sivan K. “We will even send out our people to help the countries utilise our satellite service. We hosted representatives from all these countries on December 12 in New Delhi to chart out future plans.”
Last year, Isro had installed and commissioned a few terminals in each of these countries which, through Isro’s station in New Delhi, demonstrated how useful such infrastructure was for television broadcasting, video conferencing and data messaging. “Based on this success, these countries have requested the Indian government to give them full-fledged ground stations (with 7.5m antennas) and connect them to hundreds of 1.2 meter-antenna terminals so that they can have their own captive network. The first such network is coming up in Bhutan,” an official said.
Ten days ago, a 10-member Bangladesh delegation visited India to finalise the project that will have at least 100 terminals spread across that country and one large ground station, most likely in Dhaka.
Col (retd) HS Shankar, CMD of Alpha Design, said: “Thanks to Isro, which recognises our track record, we will be part of the implementation of the project in all five countries for whom the South Asia satellite was launched. We’ve begun work everywhere, but Bhutan is a priority.”
The South Asia Satellite – launched on May 5, 2017 – cost India an estimated Rs 450 crore (including launch cost and other variables) while the satellite itself cost about Rs 235 crore.
Demand for small terminals
Apart from the five large terminals, there’s demand for 100 VSATs — two-way terminals that allow telephony and internet—in each of the five countries, while Bhutan wants an additional 35 terminals with only receiving capability.
“Unlike VSATs, these are called ROTs (receive only terminals), and work like set-top boxes in our homes, which only receive information,” Krishna Gopal, vice-president (SATCOM) at Alpha explained.
The Maldives, on the other hand, has expressed interest in establishing disaster management centres in 100 of the 200 inhabited islands in the country. “After Bhutan, Bangladesh and Maldives projects kick off, and are completed in three months, they’ll take up Nepal and Sri Lanka,” said the source.
Afghanistan, which is keen on getting 100 terminals and a ground station, will have to wait since the project is on a backburner due to security concerns.
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