While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got a lot of attention this week about her remarks on North Korea (and the North Koreans’… odd reaction) she also visited India and signed several agreements between the two countries. One of them, as described in a State Department press release, is a Technology Safeguards Agreement and “associated side letters” for US-licensed components on spacecraft to be launched by India. “Practically, the agreement will facilitate the launch of U.S.-licensed spacecraft components and safeguard protected technologies and data of both countries,” the release notes. “The side letters commit the United States and India to enter into consultations regarding the market for commercial space launch and satellite services.”
That last sentence is key: the agreement, as the joint US-India statement notes, covers only “civil or non-commercial satellites” with US components to be launched by India. That greatly reduces the practical impact of this agreement, although there have already been cases of Indian spacecraft launching with US components: the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter did carry NASA instruments, for example. Before India can enter the commercial launch market for US payloads (or payloads with US components), a commercial launch services agreement is needed, something that there are still “major differences” on between the two countries, according to a report this week in The Hindu. This week’s agreement, though, is the latest in a series of moves over the last several years towards improved relations between the two countries in space.