Noting that the Sandra Bullock movie Gravity cost more than India's Mars mission, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called on Indian scientists to extend a home-grown satellite-based navigation system to its neighbours in South Asia.
India should also offer a separate satellite to them, he said in a diplomatic outreach to the neighbourhood after the successful launch of a rocket carrying a clutch of satellites, including one from Nanyang Technological University.
He said the satellites launched yesterday were all from developed nations - France, Canada, Germany and Singapore.
"Truly, this is a global endorsement of India's space capabilities," Mr Modi said, after watching the rocket take off in a plume of smoke from Sriharikota launch centre in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
India has emerged as a major player in the multibillion-dollar space market and has sent 35 satellites from 19 countries into space over the last two decades, including Singapore's first locally built satellite in 2011.
Geared more towards improving satellite communication and remote sensing applications like weather forecasting and disaster management, the space programme has lately branched into space exploration.
An Indian moon mission helped detect water on the surface of the moon in 2009, while in May last year India launched the Mars Orbiter in an effort to become the first nation in Asia to reach the Red Planet after China failed to do so.
The Orbiter, which cost around US$70 million when similar programmes have run into billions of US dollars, is expected to enter the Mars orbit on Sept 24.
Taking note of India's achievements of a low-cost space programme and calling it a matter of pride Mr Modi asked scientists to create a satellite providing a range of applications and services to India's neighbours as "a gift from India".
When contacted, a spokesperson for the Indian Space Research Organisation said the satellite for South Asia was a new initiative and that its specifications would decided after discussions with the South Asian countries.
Separately Mr Modi, who professed a personal interest in India's space programme, also sought the expansion of a satellite-based navigation system which India is putting in place, as an alternative to the American Global Positioning System, for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc).
The Saarc is a grouping of eight neighbouring countries that includes Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
"This is something which should be welcomed," said Mr Pallava Bagla, the science editor with the New Delhi Television channel. "None of our neighbours are making, launching or maintaining satellites. Only India has the capability. And this can benefit the region in areas like monsoon forecasting."
Dr D. Raghunandan, a member of the Delhi Science Forum think-tank, said an Indian navigation system extended to the Saarc countries "would be at a lower cost than anyone else can put up".
Mr Modi, who came to power on a decisive mandate, has made improving India's ties with countries in the neighbourhood a top foreign policy priority and in a break from tradition, invited regional leaders for the first time to his swearing in ceremony in May.
This article was first published on July 01, 2014.
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