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India, France plan satellites for maritime surveillance: French space agency chief

India, France plan satellites for maritime surveillance: French space agency chiefIndia and France have planned eight-10 satellites as part of a “constellation” for maritime surveillance, French space agency CNES chief Jean-Yves Le Gall has said.

This will be India's largest space cooperation with any country, officials said.

They added that the launch of eight-10 maritime surveillance satellites will focus on the Indian Ocean, a region that has been witnessing increasing Chinese presence.

France will also share its expertise with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on inter-planetary missions to Mars and Venus, the Indian space agency's two major missions, Gall said.

"We started (talks) on constellation of new satellites for maritime awareness. Of course, it will take time," Gall told PTI in an interaction.

Asked how many satellites will be part of the project, he said, "It would be between eight-10."

The purpose of the constellation is monitoring sea traffic management, a CNES official said, adding that it would take less than five years to launch the satellites.

In March this year, India and France unveiled a joint vision for space, resolving to strengthen cooperation between ISRO and CNES.

"ISRO and CNES would work together for design and development of joint products and techniques, including those involving Automatic Identification System, to monitor and protect assets in land and sea. In particular, both sides will pursue the study of a constellation of satellites for maritime surveillance," the joint vision statement said.

Several crucial sea lanes of communications pass through the Indian Ocean, a region critical to the strategic interests of India and France.

While the Indian Ocean region is the prime focus for New Delhi, Paris has its territories spread across the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, officials said.

The robust space cooperation between India and France goes back six decades.

Last week, the two countries signed an agreement to share expertise on ISRO's human mission programme Gaganyaan. The space agencies of the two countries have also been working on climate monitoring on the joint missions Megha-Tropiques (launched in 2011) and Saral-Altika (launched in 2013).

They are also working on the Trishna satellite for land Infrared monitoring and the Oceansat3-Argos mission. Discussing collaboration for the mission to Venus and Mars and France's expertise on the matter, Mathieu Weiss, the managing director of CNES' India liaison office, explained, "The eyes and scientific heart of Curiosity Rover (NASA) on Mars were developed by us. France and Russia have jointly worked for the Venus mission in the past. In both the inter-planetary missions, the French scientific community is very strong and among best in the world," Weiss told PTI.

In a media briefing at Paris on Friday, Gall said CNES is currently working with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and German space agency DLR on Hayabusa 2/ MASCOT, a mission to asteroid Ryugu. CNES has also scheduled Mission BepiColombo to Mercury.

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