Home News India Now Needs A Strategic Vision For Space, Boost Space Tech: Experts

India Now Needs A Strategic Vision For Space, Boost Space Tech: Experts


New Delhi:

Six decades after its first rocket launch, India, with the success of its Chandrayaan-3 mission now has a surer footing in the field of space exploration and technology. But now, experts say is time the country came up with a national strategic vision on a space policy, boost space-tech, propel its space economy and maximise its geopolitical gains.

India’s goals of becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council is still unfulfilled, but it is now part of an elite group of nations that have been to the moon. These include China, Russia, and the United States. Several aspirants, including Israel, Japan, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates have not succeeded in landing on the moon’s South Pole.

Namrata Goswami, Professor, Space Policy, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Arizona State University, told NDTV that the success of Chandrayaan-3 mission sends a signal to the world that India has matured as a space power, and that it is no longer dependent on the perception that Russia was the so-called hand holder for India developing its space technology.

While stressing on the fact that space plays a critical part in augmenting the grand strategic notion of a nation as well as building its hard and soft power, and India, succeeding in its lunar mission, showcased the maturity and indigenous capacity of Indian space technology, Professor Goswami, however, pointed out that where India is behind is in issuing a national security strategy and space policy where it clearly showcases how space is part of its grand strategic vision.

“Without such a strategy policy, technology demonstration may lack the strategic vision and focus,” she said.

She said the success of India’s moon mission proves to the world that the country now has indigenous space capacity and has caught up with China on the Moon, to the extent that technologies like lunar landing and sending out a rover on a celestial body are concerned. “China is ahead with its autonomous sample return where it returned lunar samples to Earth from the Moon in 2020 and then the Chang’e 5 went on to the Earth Sun Lagrange Point 1, an incredible demonstration of tech,” she said.

G. Scott Hubbard, former NASA Ames Center Director, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics Stanford University, said that significant achievements in space exploration are a major badge of accomplishment for any nation. “With the success of MOM at Mars and now Chandrayaan at the Moon, India is showing noteworthy progress in space science,” he said.

Strategy for cislunar space needs planning and foresight

Professor Goswami explained that the space between the Earth and the Moon (cislunar) is a critical strategic area of great power competition with China’s lunar mission focused on sending the Chang’e 6 to the South Pole of the Moon next year to return samples. China and Russia are planning to establish a research base on the Moon by 2036, and that with India now successfully landing on the South Pole, such technology can be utilised for upcoming missions that are democratic, on the Moon, she added.

She said that the success of Chandrayaan-3 has major implications. “For one, it showcases to countries like China, and now Russia, that India has moved ahead in cislunar (space between Earth and Moon) technology by showcasing autonomous lunar landing, sending out a rover and now searching the lunar regolith for elements like aluminium, magnesium, titanium, silicon, iron ore and water ice. Clinching a soft landing where all the sensors, radar system, propulsion system and braking system has to work is a major technological leap for India,” she said.

Geopolitical gains for India

The success of India’s moon mission will improve New Delhi’s bargaining position vis-a-vis BRICS nation, which consists of China and Russia in collaborative efforts when it comes to the Moon, she said. “As for the G-20 summit, showcasing such advanced space technology builds reputation for innovation, and the fact that India did it indigenously adds to its persevering nature in regard to space technology, something other nations will notice and view India as a partner of choice in regard to space cooperation,” Professor Goswami added.

The presence of water, which could be refined into rocket fuel in the future, suggests an opportunity for other countries to use the lunar South Pole region as a base for deeper space exploration, which is where experts feel India has an edge.

The way forward

Experts feel the lunar landing will also boost India’s economy by kickstarting private space exploration programs. “Especially after India has taken a major decision to orient its entire space ecosystem for privatisation. You see, this with its 2023 space policy where the private sector will now be tasked and supported to manufacture the space systems that India will build going forward, with ISRO playing the key role of research and development. This will extend to the lunar missions as well, especially in building launch systems and lander technology,” Professor Goswami said.

The success of the Chandrayaan-3 mission on Wednesday is likely to boost the Centre’s ambitious Make-in-India programme by spurring investments in private space launches and related satellite-based businesses. Shares of Indian space-sector companies have rallied. The processors were built by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s SCL in Mohali, and they are expected to give a fillip to India’s efforts to boost research in semiconductors too. In April, the government announced a landmark Space Policy, which allows the private sector access to a range of space activities.

Dr Hubbard said that in the US, commercial Aviation is a larger market than space. However, the space market continues to grow every year. “The success of SpaceX, Blue Origin and other smaller start-ups show there is clearly a low Earth Orbit space business developing. India might participate in this if it has three ingredients: 1) High net worth entrepreneurs; 2) Highly-trained aerospace engineers; 3) A business ecosystem that encourages such risk taking. It is no accident that SpaceX was founded in Silicon Valley and that Blue Origin is located in Seattle: home of Boeing.”

Professor Goswami said India is a signatory to the Artemis Accords and the success of the Chandrayaan-3 mission as well as the fact that its rover (Pragyan) is carrying an experiment to study the lunar elements, supports the Artemis Accords preamble that includes space resource utilisation and building sustainable lunar presence. “As such, understanding the Moon’s South Pole region is key. ISRO can play a role in research and development in partnership with NASA to further develop that end-to-end space capacity,” she said.

A new race in space

Some also feel the geopolitical rivalry among space faring nations could become stronger after Chandrayaan.

“You could see the geopolitical angle of space with the U.S. drafted and now India signed Artemis Accords and the China-led and Russia signed International Lunar Research Station. There are several missions already planned for the Moon with a 2024 China Lunar South Pole sample return, 2028 South Pole survey mission, 2030 Chinese taikonauts landing on the Moon and finally by 2036 China building a research base in collaboration with Russia, Venezuela. Pakistan is also showing interest in joining China. This competition will play out based on who has a permanent presence on the lunar surface, who will build that base first, as well as who will succeed in building the regulatory and normative regimes for the Moon,” Professor Goswami said.

Dr Hubbard, however, said people often speak of a Chinese-US space race to put humans on the Moon and Mars. “While the Administrator of NASA has mentioned this in Congressional testimony, the overt attributes do not yet seem as evident as the US-Soviet “space race” of the 1960’s Apollo era.”

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