India’s Mangalyaan project has found an unlikely ally in Australia, which is not only providing groundstation support for the mission but has also been keenly following its progress.
“Australia is providing groundstation infrastructure to support India's Mars Orbiter Mission,” said Director-Professor Jason Held, head of one of Australia’s top space companies, Saber Astronautics, who will be in Bangalore for discussions with ISRO.
“This mission is highly popular in Australia so there are also cultural benefits for collaboration,” Prof Held noted in his email interaction with Deccan Herald.
Saber has been working with Manipal Institute of Technology on the design of its cube-satellite, Parakshit, which ISRO is scheduled to launch in 2015. The satellite will then be tracked by Saber Astronautics’ facilities in Australia.
At the end of its life cycle, the cube satellite will exit Earth’s orbit using the DragEN tether net it has deployed.
Asked what he feels about Indian and Australian space missions, Prof Held said: “Australia is in a unique strategic position geographically that makes us very valuable for satellite operations worldwide.”
He said Australia has low signal noise due to its vastness and sparse population, making it easier to communicate with spacecrafts. Absence of a domestic space programme unlike India has also made the country focus on operational expertise.
“High profile missions, such as the US Apollo mission, used Australian groundstations to communicate with astronauts on the moon,” Prof Held noted. He also pointed to the fledgling cooperation between the two countries.
“Australia benefits from India's Earth Observation satellites which we use to support our agriculture, mining, and naval industries. In return, Australia is providing groundstation infrastructure to support India's Mars Orbiter Mission,” Prof Held said.
He believes there is scope for more cooperation. Australia is growing a small satellite programme to enter a rapidly growing market which is expected to reach $2 billion by end of the decade.
“This is something that would benefit Indian businesses as well. Many commercial "NewSpace" missions are possible where small but agile businesses in India and Australia collaborate and produce far greater cash flows than if we stay within our borders,” Prof Held said.