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India Hosts International Conference of Space Scientists

A gathering of international scientists in India is highlighting the new capabilities of Asian nations to reach outer space. As Anjana Pasricha reports, more than 2,000 aerospace experts are debating the future direction of space exploration.

Scientists from 45 countries are meeting in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad - 50 years after the former Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite, and ushered in the space age.

In the following years, the United States and the Soviet Union were the primary space-faring nations. They were eventually followed by Japan and the European Union.

But the week-long conference underlines that much has changed since the Soviet's Sputnik satellite launch. India and China now have big space programs and are the emerging players in the space industry.

B.N. Suresh, head of India's Vikram Sarabhai Space Center, says India is using the conference to showcase its capabilities in producing and launching satellites.

"India has already established in the space arena, and we are now considered one of the six big space powers," Suresh said. "Particularly this year we have done very well, number of spacecraft we have launched, then we had one commercial launch…. I am sure this would go well with the world space community."

The satellite launch industry is expected to grow over the next decade to be worth 190 billion dollars. India and China want to grab a larger slice of the business.

The conference this week is exploring ways in which space technology can benefit the common man.

For example, experts say satellites can connect villages, and provide farmers with weather data, disaster alerts and market trends. Earth observation satellites can be used to forecast harvests and identify water resources.

But Suresh says reducing the cost will be critical in taking space technology to the poor. He says that will be a major focus of space research in India.

"You need to bring down the cost of launching a k.g. (kilogram) of satellite. Today it costs anywhere between 15 thousand to 20,000 U.S. dollars to launch one k.g. into any orbit. So if we really want to survive for long, we need to bring down to somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 U.S. dollars, and we are trying to achieve that in the coming years," Suresh said.

Scientists from the United States and Europe are also highlighting the need for greater international cooperation in exploring outer space. They say deep space probes such as expeditions to Mars will require countries to pool their resources in projects such as the International Space Station, being built by U.S., Russia, Japan, Canada and several European countries.