India will launch a new facet of space diplomacy on Friday—literally. The ‘South Asia Satellite’, which is scheduled for lift off at 1127 GMT, will provide communications services to Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Unsurprisingly, arch-rival Pakistan has refused to take part in the Indian-led project.
Besides increasing regional cooperation, the launch gives New Delhi an opportunity to showcase its fledgling space capabilities, which have progressed impressively in recent years. Since 2008, the subcontinent has doubled its space spending—a trend all the more significant because traditional space powers, namely the US and Russia, have cut funding in this period.
Besides planning prestigious (and expensive) exploration missions to Mars and Venus, India is also ramping up its military space arsenal. Advances in anti-satellite weapons and communication capabilities have concerned neighbouring Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan’s abstention from the South Asia Satellite program stem partly from concerns that New Delhi might use it to obtain sensitive data that could give it the edge in a potential conflict.