The last few years have witnessed intensified strategic space cooperation between India and US. The decision to start a Space Security Dialogue, 2015 followed by the signing of Space Situational Awareness MOU, 2021 are substantial steps in this regard. The Indian Space Research Organisation has also been actively working with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency in outer space cooperation for earth observation, satellite navigation and lunar cooperation.
China’s burgeoning space capabilities are, perhaps, one of the primary drivers behind such bilateral initiatives. At the heart of space rivalry and securitisation is the changing balance of power dynamic in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
Two emerging astropolitical coalitions are: Signatories to the US led Artemis Accords and others with alternate plans for an International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), i.e., China and Russia. India, despite its recent expanding space cooperation with the US and dwindling cooperation with Russia, is the only remaining significant space faring nation that hasn’t become a signatory to the Artemis Accords or the ILRS.
Given this backdrop, space cooperation in the QUAD assumes significance. India feels comfortable in the QUAD framework. It routinely stresses QUAD’s flexibility, its multifaceted objectives and non-alliance structure. QUAD, in Sept 2021, resolved to ensure uninterrupted access to space through framing consensual outer space governance rules and norms. A part of this initiative is ideal debris management practices for fostering outer space sustainability.
However, the larger idea is framing rules to restrain irresponsible acts by space powers, prevent space conflicts and limit exploitation of orbital resources.
A potential arena of cooperation for the QUAD could be the development of a “resilient space architecture”to match Chinese advances in Belt and Road Space Information Corridor14. China aims to create a “four in one” space information service that integrates sensing, transmission and use of geospatial information.
If a similar project is developed by the QUAD, it can foster policy coordination, service cooperation and also create a model for like-minded space faring nations in the Indo-Pacific. Such a model also complements QUAD’s vision for creating outer space governance rules and norms.
Another arena of space cooperation for QUAD includes leveraging individual expertise for developing requisite technological capacities for outer space strategic deterrence. Space Traffic Management is an additional area which could enhance QUAD’s efforts for sustainable space.
As far as Lunar space coalitions are concerned, India faces a host of imperfect options, between the Artemis Accords, ILRS or remaining in COPUOS. The most reasonable bet would be to withdraw from Moon Treaty 1971 and join the Artemis Accords, while parallelly deepening bilateral space cooperation with Russia.
This option boosts India’s lunar exploratory capabilities, creates possibilities for orbital resource extraction and also gives it a seat at the table, along with QUAD, for shaping outer space governance rules and norms.