Earlier this month, the Indian media reported the expected activation of a Data Reception and Tracking and Telemetry Station at Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Setting up of a Tracking and Telemetry Station would in the normal course not attract too much attention. Such stations are set up to monitor launch of space vehicles and tracking of satellites. ISRO has set up such facilities in the region.
ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) website informs that “In order to meet the continuous Telemetry requirements of GSLV, an intermediate down range station at Brunei and a down range station at Biak (Indonesia) were established during 1998 that continued to serve all East-bound PSLV/GSLV Missions. As Biak station has some exclusive passes that are not visible to Indian stations, it is optimally utilised to support the satellite operations as well”. These facilities have since been upgraded as per the new mission requirements.
The Borneo Bulletin reported that a MoU between Brunei and India was signed recently for cooperation in the operation of telemetry tracking and command station for satellite and launch vehicles, and for cooperation in the field of space research, science and applications. This MoU extended the arrangement in place since 1997 for the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Station in Brunei Darussalam – known as the Indian Space Research Organisation Telemetry, Tracking and Command Station (ISRO TTC Station) – within the compound of the Telekom Brunei Berhad (TelBru) premises at the Tungku Submarine Cable Landing Station.
ISRO and the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space of Indonesia (LAPAN) signed a MoU on cooperation in 2002. Among other things, LAPAN has provided logistical and technical support to ISRO for setting up of its Telemetry, Tracking and Command Centre at Biak in West Papua.
The station at Ho Chi Minh City is unique in that it will enable data reception. This means that in addition to enabling ISRO to track satellites launched from India, it will be equipped to receive images from India’s earth observation satellites. Vietnam can use these images in return for granting India the tracking site.
A Reuters report of 25 January 2016 had mentioned this arrangement as “a sort of quid pro quo which will enable Vietnam to receive IRS (Indian remote sensing) pictures directly, that is, without asking India”. “Obviously it will include parts of China of interest to Vietnam”, the report added. It was felt that Chinese naval bases, the operations of its coastguard and navy and its new man-made islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea would be targets of Vietnamese interest. As per the report, New Delhi would also have access to the imagery. Vietnam launched its first earth observation satellite in 2013, but it was not thought to produce particularly high resolution images. This arrangement will meet Vietnam’s requirement to access to an advanced surveillance and reconnaissance capability, as also provide India similar access in the region.
India has spent about $23 million (Rs 152 crore) to set up the facility in Ho Chi Minh City.