Tuesday, July 1, 2014

France and India meet in Space

On the occasion of the launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C (PLSV-C) 23 rocket carrying five foreign satellites, I repost an interview with the (now former) Chairman of the CNES, ISRO's French counterpart.
A few minutes after the launch PSLV-C23 rocket, five satellites were placed on orbit around Earth.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had arrived at Sriharikota on the previous day, witnessed the rocket launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.

The main payload was a 714 kg French Earth Observation Satellite named SPOT-7. 
PSLV C23 also carried a 14 kg AISAT of Germany, a NLS7.1 (CAN-X4) & NLS7.2 (CAN-X5) of Canada each weighing 15 kg and the 7 kg VELOX-1 of Singapore. 
Here is my interview:

On the occasion of the perfect launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C22 (PSLV-C22) by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), I am posting my interview with Yannick d'Escatha, the then Chairman and CEO of the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), ISRO’s French counterpart.
The interview was conducted at the time of the launch of PSLV-C20. 

On February 25, 2013, ISRO put into orbit an Indo-French satellite SARAL, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. President Pranab Mukherjee and other dignitaries witnessed the special event.
In a 22-minute perfectly smooth operation, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C20) first released the Indo-French satellite and then place on a perfect orbit six other foreign mini and micro satellites
It was the 23rd mission of PSLV, which has an impeccable record of 21 consecutive successful flights. The 668.5 kgs and 44.4 metres tall rocket lifted a mass of 229.7 tonnes.
A couple of hours the launch, Claude Arpi meets Mr. Yannick d'Escatha, Chairman and CEO of the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), ISRO’s French counterpart to discuss the deep trust between India and France in the field of space.
To say the importance of the project for the CNES, Mr d’Escatha had especially flown from Kourou in French Guyana, to be present. Three days earlier, he was in Delhi with President Hollande to sign a Letter of Intent on the future collaboration between ISRO and CNES.

CA: Mr. d'Escatha, can you say a few words about the long collaboration between India and France in the field of space.
Yannick d'Escatha
YDE: This is a historic cooperation that has lasted more than forty years. It was greatly boosted in 2003 when we revived the Megha-Tropique project [Megha-Tropiques is an Indo-French satellite to study the exchange of thermal energy between the ocean and the atmosphere in a tropical region to better understand the impact of these exchanges on the climate]. The satellite was put into orbit in 2011 and it was a success. And now, ISRO has launched the satellite SARAL [or Satellite with ARgos and ALtiKa is a cooperative altimetry technology mission], which I am sure will also be a great success.
[Further], on February 14 in Delhi, we signed a new bilateral agreement in the presence of the President [François Hollande] and the Indian Prime Minister [Manmohan Singh]; we decided that we were going to work on a third space mission, after Megha-Tropiques and Saral. We also decided to start a collaboration in the field of space technology.
In this agreement, we have clarified the process of selection of the third mission, which will focus on the same theme as the previous two, that is ‘climate change’. We also agreed on a schedule which will lead to the choice of this mission in the fall of 2014.
CA: What will be the theme?
YDE: It will continue to revolve around climate. This is where France and India have more common interests. The proposed research will also include [the study] of tropical climate. Today, India and France are the two main countries specializing in the study of tropical climates using satellites. For India, it is obvious for geographical reasons; as for France, we are also interested because the weather forecast in our latitudes is highly dependent on the conditions in the tropics, which is a real energy reserve. We are passionate about this issue. We are, with India, the world's best on the subject, and it is in this field that we want to, and will continue our cooperation.
CA: Two years after its launch, are you satisfied with the Indo-French cooperation on the Megha-Tropiques project?
YDE: We are more than satisfied. There is a lot of voluntarism on both side; further, to work together on the same satellite, we have learned to work in integrated teams.
CA: This is part of the strategic partnership signed by President Chirac in 1998?
YDE: Yes. What I find most interesting is that to successfully work on a satellite together, each one must give the best of himself; it means that both have to closely work together. One must transcend cultural barriers; language is not the same; one must adjust working methods which are not always the same. In a multicultural project one must overcome all this. With India, it works very well. Friendly ties have been forged and they are deep.
CA: Do you mean that there is a real understanding between India and France?
YDE: Yes, it is very clear for the Megha-Tropiques project. In the beginning, there were difficulties to adjust our engineering methods; our methods are not the same, but at the end, we had to have only one satellite!
So, it is necessary that the two methods are coupled if we want a successful ending. We managed this for Megha-Tropiques and now for the Saral project, it has become much easier. This means that we have learned from each other, the work on Saral has been much smoother after our experience on the Megha-Tropiques.
CA: Do you think that this kind of collaboration between countries is the future for research?
YDE: Absolutely. For us Europeans, we are accustomed to working together in multilateral cooperation at the level of Europe. A nation does no longer work alone in Europe, one works with other European countries. We also cooperate with international agencies of all great space powers.
For example, what we do with our Indians partners (ISRO) on the study of climate with the Megha-Tropiques and Saral satellites, deeply interest the international scientific community, including the Americans, the Japanese and Brazilians, as well as Europeans.
Another example, EUMETSAT [European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites] is involved in the use of data collected by Megha-Tropiques for the weather, but also through a NASA program called GPM (Global Precipitation Mission), which is a Japanese-American program.
We try to understand and model the mechanisms of rain precipitation on our planet, especially in the tropics, a region which plays a particularly important role. Thus, ISRO and CNES have signed an agreement with EUMETSAT, and an agreement with NASA to participate in this GPM broader collaboration. The result is that we do many things that we would be unable to do individually. In fact, we do much more.
CA: Financially and scientifically?
YDE: Exactly. On both sides, we have scientific communities involved in the cooperation, which leads to more scientists on a particular project, but also more technology, more industries, and more budgets. It is very interesting because you get all the results by paying less, that is to say we pay our own share only. In addition, we learn from each other; it helps us to grow. We are enriched by the methods, knowledge and technology of the other.
In the Letter of Intent signed during the presidential visit [on February 14 at Hyderabad House], there is a very important point to emphasize.
Two things were decided, first of all we will work, as I told you, on a third joint project.
Second, we want to go further in opening a new chapter of cooperation which is called the R & T (Research and Technology).
This is very interesting because it allows a continuous cooperation, while for missions like Megha-Tropiques or Saral, it goes through different phases: increase in activities, it passes through a maximum, and then it stops, and then we go to the next project. The importance of cooperation in R & T is that you can carry out research continuously, regardless of the phases of a particular project. The other benefit of cooperation in R & T is that it enables the development of industrial cooperation. As for rockets, cooperation, to be complete, must have three stages! The first stage is the collaboration between space agencies, that is to say States. For this, we need a common will and topics of common interest on which we can work together. With India, the first stage between the two space agencies has worked very well for a long time. There is a high trust on both sides. The second stage is the cooperation between the scientific communities that are created around particular joint missions; this stage also works well between France and India. And the third stage is the cooperation between industries. It is this stage that we are trying to ‘boost’ by opening a fresh chapter of cooperation in R & T.
CA: President François Hollande has often spoken of ‘trust’ during his recent visit. Do you find this trust in the space cooperation?
YDE: When deep friendships are forged, then comes a robust relationship based on trust. We bring a lot to each other, and this is on a long term basis.
CA: President Mukherjee recently spoke of an Indian mission to Mars. Could you envisage a collaboration between India and France in this field in the future?
YDE: Sure, but it would be within the European framework. We have already cooperation between ISRO and ESA [European Space Agency]. So, in addition to our bilateral cooperation between India and France, there is already some cooperation between India and Europe. We are anyhow the main European player in the field of space.
We Europeans are considering the exploration of Mars at the European level with an international worldwide cooperation. Each member state does not act individually. We are interested and involved, but it is the ESA which represents us. This is the case when we discuss the International Space Station with NASA.
For the exploration of Mars, we are calling for international cooperation of all countries. It's too big for any country, whoever it is, including the Americans who have renounced to go alone! Remember that the Americans have a space budget six times larger than all of Europe combined. Well, even they cannot do it alone.
So if you want to go to Mars, we need to go together. It is humanity that will explore Mars. In that context, India has an important role to play. India has proven its technology with its launchers as well as with Chandrayaan [solar probe] and its satellites.
CA: Last question, personal this one. Dr. Radhakrishnan, your ISRO counterpart went to pray at the great temple of Tirupati for the success of the mission PSLV C-20. Do you pray before a launch?
YDE: Individually, everyone does what he wants to do in a moment of emotion like that. It is true that one always defies the laws of nature during a launch.
CA: This is a very emotional moment!
YDE: Yes, it is a moment of emotion which sublimates man. This is probably why we touch other concepts: space is not only on earth, there is another dimension.

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