By Sergey Semenov & Yuliya Katsenko
In the run-up to the rotating Russian presidency of BRICS, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said that Moscow intended to deepen cooperation on space issues in the BRICS framework. "We will undoubtedly flesh out the nascent five-party cooperation in space," the diplomat said, adding that efforts in that direction "may require a more specific and systemic approach".
Bilateral projects account for most of the ongoing BRICS cooperation on space issues. For example, Russia helps to train Brazilian space specialists at the Academician Korolev National Research University in Samara. Russia has also deployed five non-query measurement stations (NQMS) of its Glonass satellite navigation system in Brazil; the sixth station is to follow before the end of 2020. In 2016, the first Glonass NQMS was also deployed on the African continent (in South Africa). There are plans for mutual hosting of satellite navigation stations with India and China, which means that land-based Glonass stations may soon appear in all five of the current BRICS members.The Russian stations also serve another crucial role of tracking the space debris that poses a hazard for all spacecraft.
Within the bilateral Russian-Chinese space dialogue under the auspices of the BRICS, Russia and China signed an agreement in May 2019 on the joint implementation of the project of a Rocket Space Complex (RSC) "Aerospace" on the basis of the Center named after academician V. P. Makeyev (Chelyabinsk region, Miass city). The project is worth more than $ 1.5 billion. It provides for the concept of "air launch" of light and ultralight launch vehicles from advanced IL-76 aircraft. Based on the published data, it should be assumed that such a concept is a dual-use project designed, among other things, to launch small satellites into established polar orbits.
Russian Ambassador to India Nikolay Kudashev has spoken about Russia's readiness to provide India with technological support in the development of life-support, navigation, and docking systems for a manned spacecraft. Negotiations are already under way on supplying Russian engines for heavy and superheavy space launchers required for the Indian national manned spaceflight program. India plans to launch its first manned space mission using the Gaganyaan carrier by 2022. The initial cosmonaut training will take place in India, but Russia and India have already signed an agreement on space training. According to Ambassador Kudashev, Moscow and New Delhi could also cooperate on Venus, Mars, and Sun exploration programs.
The most significant milestone in the BRICS space cooperation was the decision to set up a joint virtual fleet of remote sensing satellites. As a result of that decision, BRICS members will gain access to remote sensing data collecting by each other's satellites, whereas South Africa, which has no such satellites of its own, will be given access to data from Brazilian, Russian, Indian, and Chinese satellites. There have also been discussions on the possibility of launching a new space station in partnership with the BRICS nations.
Another thing in common between all five BRICS members is their opposition to the deployment of weapons in outer space. The final declaration of the 11th BRICS summit held in Brazil in 2019 expresses concern over the nascent arms race in the outer space and the lack of any legal framework to keep it in check because the draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space has yet to be approved.
The Final Declaration of the 12th BRICS summit also confirms the common positions of the member countries on this issue, and declares the existence of "an urgent need to agree on a legally binding multilateral instrument" that would prevent the militarization of outer space. In addition, the Declaration contains provisions on the desire for comprehensive cooperation on the non-deployment of weapons in outer space both within the BRICS and with the UN institutions. "We emphasize that practical transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space (TCBMs), including the "No First Placement of Weapons in Outer Space Initiative", can also contribute to achieving this goal. We reaffirm that the TCBMs should complement, and not replace, an effective legally binding regime of outer space," the Declaration emphasizes.
According to Dmitry Rogozin, director of the Russian space corporation Roskosmos, "BRICS should ramp up cooperation on improving legal regulation of space activities, protecting them from various challenges and threats at the national and international level, and strengthening the security of space operations". Rogozin added that "it is necessary to keep the outer space free of weapons of any kind, so that it remains suitable for long-term and sustainable use by the current and future generations".
All the potential BRICS membership candidates agree that militarization of the outer space is unacceptable. Argentina, Mexico, Iran, Egypt, and Indonesia always vote in support of the UN General Assembly resolutions "Prevention of the Arms Race in the Outer Space" and "No First Placement of Weapons in Outer Space". The only outlier is Turkey, which is bound by NATO discipline and always abstains on that resolution. Also, it is worth noting that Argentina has undertaken a unilateral political commitment on no first placement of weapons in the outer space.
The existing BRICS members and the membership candidates have few, if any differences on political issues related to the outer space – but analysis of the technological potential of Argentina, Mexico, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, and Indonesia yields a less consistent picture.
The main priorities of the Argentine space program include the development of SAOCOM and NUSAT remote sensing satellites and gaining independent access to the outer space pro - vided by the Tronador-II light space launcher. The budget of Argentina's national space agency CONAE was slashed from 190m US dollars to 50m in 2019. As a result, the country was forced to postpone its space launcher plans indefinitely.
CONAE pursues close cooperation with NASA, and most of the Argentine satellites were put into orbit by US carriers launched from US launchpads. Argentina's SAOCOM 1A satellite was launched in 2018 in cooperation with NASA and SpaceX. In August 2020, SpaceX launched the SAOCOM 1B using a Falcon 9 launcher. Another two SAOCOM satellites (2A and 2B) are scheduled for launch in 2021.
Argentina has signed an agreement with Italy on the SIASGE joint fleet of remote sensing satellites that can be used to collect data about natural disasters. The fleet includes 4 Italian satellites and Argentina's own SAOCOM 1A satellite, which will shortly be joined by the SAOCOM 1B.
Of the existing BRICS members, Argentina already pursues space cooperation with China and Russia. China was involved in a 50m-dollar project to build a satellite tracking station in Argentina. According to statements made by China and Argentina, the station is used only for peaceful and research purposes. Nevertheless, it has caused some concern in Washington, which suspects that the facility situated in the Patagonia desert can be used for intelligence-gathering and military purposes.
At the same time, cooperation is also carried out within the framework of the Argentine-Indian dialogue. Back to September 2018, the two countries signed a Framework Agreement on cooperation, and during the 5th round of consultations between the foreign Ministries of the two states, held on September 10, 2020, the Indian Space Research Organization invited the Argentine National Space Commission to cooperate on the launches of the Argentine SAOCOM satellites.
In 2019, Argentina and Russia signed an updated bilateral protocol on cooperation on outer space exploration and peaceful use. According to Mikhail Khaylov, deputy chief of Roskosmos, the agreement covers all possible areas of cooperation, including remote earth sensing, the development of various spacecraft, and manned space programs. As part of that agreement, Moscow could supply Argentina with rocket engines and fuel, as well as share some space tech - nology solutions.
With its existing land infrastructure and technological potential, Argentina could make a notable contribution to BRICS space cooperation. Owing to its ongoing difficulties with financing, the Argentine space agency needs to further expand its network of partnerships, and especially to attract more funding for space projects, which tend to be very expensive.
Mexico launched its first space satellite back in 1985. Since then, it has put into orbit an additional 15 spacecraft, most of them com - munication satellites. Mexico does not have a space launch capability of its own, so it uses other countries' launchpads. Several of its satellites were launched from the Baikonur. In 2019, the Roskosmos subsidiary Glavkosmos and Mexico's Iniciativa Espacial Mexicana MXSpace signed a memorandum that will help to promote Russian space industry products and services in the Mexican market.
In 2019, Mexico joined the Asia Pacif - ic Organization for Space Cooperation, a Chinese-led outfit.
In addition, the country is currently pursuing the goal of creating a Caribbean-Latin American Space Agency, which in the future, as planned, can become an analogue of the European Space Agency, whose goal is to deepen cooperation between the European countries both on scientific space exploration and (especially important for some countries, such as El Salvador, where only 27% of the popu - lation has Internet access) the development of near-Earth space with the aim of expanding the network of telecommunications satellites.
In 2014, Mexico and India signed a memorandum of understanding on space cooperation as part of their progress towards a strategic partnership. The memorandum discusses cooperation projects in remote earth sensing satellites and peaceful uses of the outer space. As present, the Mexican and Indian space agencies are in talks to expand the scope of the memorandum by including cooperation in the area of innovation and technologies. In 2018, India organized a demon - stration for Mexico in the use of remote earth sensing satellites for monitoring wildfires. In other words, Mexico already pursues space cooperation with several BRICS nations in a bilateral framework, and it could seamlessly integrate into multilateral BRICS-wide space cooperation initiatives.
Turkey made a great push with its space program in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The first Turkish communication satellite, TURK - SAT-1B, was put into orbit in 1994. The country has now launched 13 satellites, including five communication satellites, one remote earth sensing spacecraft, six research, and two military satellites. By the end of 2020, they will be followed by another communication satellite, the Turksat 5A. The country's first two indigenously made satellites, Turksat 5B and Turksat 6A, are scheduled for launch in 2021-2022. This will make Turkey one of only about a dozen countries capable of building their own satellites.
In February 2021, an extremely ambitious Roadmap for the Turkish space program for a 10-year perspective was published. According to the statement of Turkish President T. R. Erdogan, "this national space program will lead our country to the top league of the world space race", and "the main and most important goal of this pro - gram is to launch a Turkish spacecraft to the moon in the year of the 100th anniversary of our republic ". This program provides for the achievement of a number of goals to increase the economic efficiency of the Turkish space program and to make the country one of the leaders in the exploration of near-Earth space by the early 2030s.
At the same time, on April 11, 2021, the Minister of Industry and Technology of Turkey, Mustafa Varank, announced the first suc - cessful tests of a hybrid engine for the Turkish "lunar" program.
Russia and Turkey are currently in talks on signing a bilater - al agreement on cooperation in the exploration and peaceful use of the outer space. According to Roskosmos director Dmitry Rogozin, Russia could train the first Turkish cosmonaut by 2023, as well as share its rocket engine and spacecraft technologies. According to the head of the Turkish Space Agency, Serdar H. Yuildirim, Turkey hopes to conclude an agreement with Russia on further areas of cooperation in this area within "several months". At the same time, Ankara plans to launch its own cosmonaut training program after 2023, for which more than $ 6 billion will be allocated.
On March 14, 2021, the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, announced the existence of important bilateral long-term interests in the field of space exploration, and also confirmed the preparation of a draft document on the cooperation between Russia and Turkey in this area. He also stressed that it should become the legal basis for Russian-Turkish cooperation on peaceful space exploration.
At the same time, Turkey continues to cooperate in the field of space exploration with Western aerospace companies. Thus, in January 2021, President R. T. Erdogan held a telephone conversation with the head of SpaceX, Elon Musk, during which they discussed the directions and details of further cooperation between the American corporation and Turkish aerospace companies.
Iran currently has two active satellites in orbit. A total of six satellites have been launched since the Iranian space program began. The country also has several launchpads suitable for satellite launches. According to the latest report published by the intelligence directorate of the Iranian Ministry of Defense, Iran also has two space carriers (the Safir and the Simorgh) capable of delivering microsatellites to the low Earth orbit. The Safir has already put into orbit several communication and remote earth sensing satellites, whereas all the Simorgh launches have ended in failure. Nevertheless, on February 1, 2021, Iran announced the first successful launch of a new Zuljanah rocket capable of launching a payload of up to 240 kg into space.
The opportunities for Iran's international cooperation on space exploration and peaceful use are severely limited by US sanctions. Restrictions imposed by the United States apply to the Iranian Space Agency, the Center for Space Research and the Center for Astronautical Research. That is why it is unlikely that the space agencies of the other BRICS members would be willing to pursue any major space cooperation programs with Iran, especially since the Iranian space program is not very far advanced in terms of its available resources and technologies.
In 2019, following Vladimir Putin's promise to provide assistance to the space exploration programs of Turkey, Bahrein, and Saudi Arabia – and after Russia helped to arrange the flight of the first UAE cosmonaut to the International Space Station – Iran urged Russia to begin negotiations on arranging for a similar flight to the ISS by an Iranian cosmonaut and on training that cosmonaut in Russia.
According to UN data, Egypt has launched a total of 9 spacecraft since the start of its space program, including three remote earth sensing satellites. At present, the Egyptian space fleet includes only one active remote earth sensing satellite, which is expected to remain operational until 2024. Nevertheless, Egypt is one of the region's leaders in space exploration. In 2019 alone, the country placed 4 satellites into orbit. And even though some of them failed well before the end of their design lifespan, launching four satellites in a space of a single year is a record for the African continent. Egypt's leading role in space exploration is also emphasized by the fact that Cairo hosts the headquarters of the African Space Agency.
In 2020, Egypt adopted a 10-year space program covering the period to 2030. The country's plans for the next three years include placing another two satellites into orbit. Egypt also hopes to send its first cosmonaut into space by 2025. The Egyptian space program prioritizes communication satellites and spacecraft that can track climate change. It also has a major military component. It has been reported that Egypt has used a remote earth sensing satellite to keep track of the construction of the Hidase hydroelectric power plant's dam (the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) in Ethiopia.
Additionally, Egypt has two ground stations in Cairo and Aswan, which are also used by the African Space Agency.
Egypt pursues very productive cooperation with France; the Egyptian satellite Tiba 1 was launched by the French Ari - ane 5 carrier with the assistance of Arianespace company. Japan has also been involved in placing Egyptian satellites into orbit.
Nevertheless, the main source of financial assistance to the Egyptian space program is China. In January 2019, Beijing and Cairo signed their third agreement on financing an Egyptian space project (to build and launch the MisrSat II satellite) worth 72 million dollars. After the completion of this Si - no-Egyptian project, Egypt will become the first African state that has its own satellite assembly and testing technologies.
At the same moment, Egypt is also holding a dialogue on space with Russia. On March 5, 2021, it emerged that there are plans to sign a cooperation agreement between the Egyptian Space Agency and "Roscosmos". In addition, in January 2020 Egypt began a 6-year program to select and train the first national astronauts.
Indonesia plans to build its own space launcher capable of placing spacecraft into 200-300km orbits by 2025. Specialists with the Nikkei Asian Review believe 2040 is the more realistic time frame for Indonesia to acquire the capability to launch satellites from its own territory. At present, Indonesia uses launchpads in India for its satellite launches. But Indonesia's equatorial position offers a valuable advantage since launching a rocket into space from the equator requires less energy. In 2006, Russia and Indonesia considered the possibility of using Biak Island for launching rockets into space using the "air launch" technology. Currently, the spaceport is being considered for launching multi-stage rockets without a person on board, and the first launches are planned to begin by 2024.150 At the same time, the creation of both the cosmodrome and its own independent space industry is planned to be completed by 2045.
In addition, the launch of the largest Indonesian telecommunications satellite, ASTRA, is planned for 2023, the total cost of the project is approaching 550 million dollars. Currently, Indonesia is going to deactivate 5 national and 4 foreign satellites with a total capacity of 50 Gbit/sec, while the projected required capacity of the Indonesian satellite constellation by 2030 should be more than 900 Gbit/sec, which indicates significant plans of Indonesia to develop its space program in the next decade.
Indonesia consists of over 17,000 islands, which is why the country's leadership has a strong interest in developing satellite technologies for monitoring the national border and providing remove islands with satellite communications.
Over the short term, building and expanding remote earth sensing satellite fleets will become a key priority of international space cooperation. Every BRICS membership candidate discussed in this paper has some indigenous technological capability in that area, but Argentina appears the most advanced in that sense. There are, however, certain doubts about the resilience of the Argentine economy since the country is already struggling to maintain its existing space fleet, and the satellites already in orbit are not always able to secure enough business to make them commercially viable.
Over the longer term, cooperation with Indonesia opens up the most promising opportunities because of the country's advantageous geographic situation. Launching satellites from one of the Indonesian islands near the equator would significantly reduce the per-kilogram cost of putting payloads into orbit. But in order to make such cooperation a realistic possibility, Indonesia will have to do some serious homework, which should include the development of the national space infrastructure. BRICS could provide some assistance to such an endeavor, including financial support via its New Development Bank.