India-Bhutan cooperation in Space Research

Non-Aligned Movement has emphasised on the need for cooperation among the Member nations to enable the advancement of scientific research, and cooperation in the field of space technologies is an integral part of such research. One of the prominent examples of cooperation in this field recently took place between India and Bhutan.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has started the training of four engineers from Bhutan at the UR Rao Satellite Centre (URSC), Bengaluru. The Phase-1 of training will be from 28 December 2020 to 25 February 2021. Phase-I of the training will involve various theoretical and technical aspects as well as visits to laboratories and test facilities. Subsequently, the Bhutanese team will work with ISRO to formulate the second phase of training, which will involve activities towards developing the small satellite for Bhutan, INS-2B.

According to a press release by the Embassy of India in Thimphu, Bhutan, “During the visit of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to Bhutan in August 2019, the Prime Ministers of India and Bhutan agreed to collaborate on the joint development of a small satellite for Bhutan. A Joint Working Group (JWG) was formed to implement the project and other related activities, including developing a geo-portal system for Bhutan for natural resources and disaster management, using remote sensing and geo-spatial data. This project is in line with the vision of His Majesty the King of Bhutan to harness space technology and its applications for the benefit of the country and its people. In a recent virtual meeting between the two Prime Ministers on 20 November 2020, Prime Minister Modi had announced that the small satellite for Bhutan will be launched in 2021 and that the Indian side will extend capacity building to Bhutanese engineers for this purpose”.

“As a close friend and partner, India accords high priority to its bilateral relations with Bhutan under the Government of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Cooperation in new frontiers such as space technology has been given an impetus by the leadership of the countries and will be bolstered further through the joint development of the small satellite for Bhutan”, the press releases further states.

On December 30, 2020, India and Bhutan further approved Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the peaceful use of the outer space. India and Bhutan have been discussing on establishing formal space cooperation. A template for Inter-Governmental MoU for Space cooperation was shared with MEA in November 2017 for further taking up with Bhutan. This draft was further discussed along with other cooperative proposals during the bilateral meeting in February 2020. After obtaining necessary approvals the MoU was signed on November 19, 2020 by both sides and exchanged.

This MoU is in line with the ideological position of NAM. NAM has urged all Member States, in particular those with major space capabilities, to contribute actively to the goal of preventing an arms race in outer space as an essential condition for the promotion of international cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. The Movement has called for the promotion and strengthening of international cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.

This MoU will enable India and Bhutan to pursue cooperation in potential interest areas, such as remote sensing of the earth; satellite communication and satellite based navigation; Space science and planetary exploration; use of spacecraft and space systems and ground system; and application of space technology.

The MoU will also lead to set up a Joint Working Group, drawing members from DOS/ISRO and the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) of Bhutan, which will further work out the plan of action including the time-frame and the means of implementation.