India is all set to launch the South Asia Satellite on May 5. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has described the South Asia stellite as India's "pricelss gift" to its neighbours as part of the 'sabka sath, sabka vikas' concept in South Asia.
For the first time, India is flexing its prowess of space technology through a special Rs 450-crore heavyweight bird - South Asia Satellite - in the sky to its neighbours.
Soon after taking over as the Prime Minister in 2014, Modi had made a unilateral proposal of India launching the satellite whose data would be shared with the eight SAARC countries for their development.
Initially, it was to be named as 'SAARC Satellite' but its name was changed to South Asia Satellite after Pakistan refused to join the project.
Basically, the satellite is meant for providing communication and disaster support, connectivity among the countries of South Asia region.
"On May 5, India will launch the South Asia Satellite. The benefits of this satellite will go a long way in meeting the developmental needs of the countries participating in this project," the Prime Minister said in his regular 'Mann ki Baat' radio programme.
Here are few key details about the South Asia Satellite -
# On May 5, the skies above the island of Sriharikota on the coast of the Bay of Bengal will be lit up as the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) also called the 'naughty boy of ISRO' on its 11th mission will carry a message of peace like never before.
# PM Modi described it as a "priceless gift" from India, he said the project is a significant step towards promoting cooperation with the entire South Asia.
# The benefits will be in the areas of mapping of natural resources, tele-medicine, education, IT connectivity and people-to-people links.
# PM Modi thanked the countries which became part of this project. These countries, besides India, are Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Afghanistan.
# South Asian Satellite will provide a significant capability to each of the participating countries in terms of DTH, certain VSAT capacity plus linking among the states for both disaster information transfer and also in terms of library type of things.
# The satellite was initially proposed to be launched in December last year but it got delayed.
# Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is providing this space-based platform that would cost the participating nations almost USD 1,500 million over the 12-year life of the satellite.
# Prashant Agarwal, an IIT Kanpur-trained engineer and the point-person in the Ministry of External Affairs piloting the project, says, "Prime Minister Modi has actually extended his slogan 'Sab Ka Saath Sab Ka Vikas' to India's neighbourhood essentially to service the needs of the poor in South Asia."
# The nearly 50-m-tall rocket that weighs about 412 tons will carry what is now dubbed as the 'South Asia Satellite' or what the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) still prefers to call GSAT-9.
# The 2230-kg satellite has been fabricated in three years and is purely a communications satellite costing Rs 235 crore.
# The uniqueness of this satellite is that it will have a footprint that extends all over South Asia and India is gifting this heavenly messenger to its neighbours who according to India's assessment could be helped in better utilising these space based technologies.
# The South Asia Satellite has 12 Ku band transponders which India's neighbours can utilise to increase communications.
# Each country will get access to at least one transponder through which they could beam their own programming and there could be common 'south Asian programing' as well.
# Each country has to develop its own ground infrastructure though India is willing to extend assistance and know-how.
# The satellite will "enable a full range of applications and services to our neighbours in the areas of telecommunication and broadcasting applications viz. television, direct-to-home (DTH), very small aperture terminals (VSATs), tele-education, telemedicine and disaster management support".
# The satellite also has the capability to provide secure hot lines among the participating nations in addition since the region is highly prone to earthquakes, cyclones, floods, tsunamis, it may help in providing critical communication links in times of disasters.
# In this unusual message of peace, India's most hostile neighbour Pakistan has fully opted out. Rest of the seven nations part of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) are already on-board with Afghanistan still to ink the deal with some minor technical details still to be fixed in Kabul.
# Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have agreed to be part of this mission.
When was the announcement made
# Just 4 weeks after taking over as PM, Modi on June 30, 2014 surprised the world while speaking to the scientists at ISRO in Sriharikota as he asked "the space community to take up the challenge of developing a SAARC satellite that we can dedicate to our neighbourhood as a gift from India".
# The proposal emerged directly from Modi and the leadership at ISRO was stunned into silence not knowing what this space animal will look like.
# A highly-impassioned Modi, who had just witnessed a successful launch, said "I believe that the fight against the poverty of the countries of SAARC is the fight against illiteracy, the fight against superstitions, the challenge of moving forward in the scientific field is the possibility of providing opportunities to young people of SAARC countries.
# Modi reinforced this idea five months later when speaking in Kathmandu at the SAARC Summit on November 26, 2014.
He said, "India's gift of a satellite for the SAARC region will benefit us all in areas like education, telemedicine, disaster response, resource management, weather forecasting and communication.
Pakistan opted out
# Modi's sincere efforts got a jolt when even after participating in the planning meeting on June 22, 2015, Pakistan decided to 'opt out' from the proposed SAARC satellite suggesting that 'Pakistan has its own space program'.
# So the project was renamed to 'South Asia Satellite' but sources say Pakistan was not allowed to veto the development project. Meanwhile frequency co-ordination activities took longer than expected and the launch got postponed by almost six months.
# Among India's neighbours, three nations already possess full-fledged communication satellites with Pakistan and Sri Lanka having been helped by China; Afghanistan also has a communication satellite actually an old India-made satellite acquired from Europe.
# Bangladesh is likely to have its first bird in the sky later this year made with help from Thales.
# Essentially, it is the tiny nations of Bhutan and Maldives that may benefit in the long run. Incidentally, Nepal has already floated a tender to acquire two communications satellites.
# Experts say "Pakistan has missed an opportunity" since its own space program is currently in a primitive stage as compared to India's.
# This is despite the fact that Pakistan actually launched its first rocket five years ahead of India and its space agency Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) is older than ISRO.
# Pakistan has had five satellites in space but today lacks heavy duty launchers and satellite fabrication facilities.
India aiming to counter China's influence in South Asia
# There is no doubt that through the South Asia Satellite India is actively trying to counter China's growing influence on its neighbours. But in the 21st-century Asian space race, China already has the first mover advantage.
# Better late than never is prevailing mood and for this unique space diplomacy it is almost certain that India is likely to get applauded by the world's powers for this one of a kind friendly confidence building measure.
(With inputs from PTI)