Pooja Arora and Umesh Chandra Ajmira
On the eve of September 6th, as dusk fell, anticipation grew among the people of India eagerly awaiting the momentous moment of Chandrayaan 2’s lunar odyssey. This aerial endeavor, which includes an orbiter, a lander and an intrepid rover, has captivated the nation’s space enthusiasts. Sleep eluded them as they anxiously monitored the delicate telemetry of the Chandrayaan lander, and the Indian prime minister attended the mass vigil. Alas, a burn materialized, instantly subduing the soaring ambitions. Yet, amid the momentary disappointment, the imminent launch of Chandrayaan 3, heralding India’s decisive victory over the minor setback in 2019, now reigns supreme.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee unveiled the Chandrayaan scheme in his Independence Day speech on 15 August 2003. Chandrayaan-1, launched by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in October 2008, marked India’s first deep space mission to orbit the Moon and deploy an impactor to its surface. A groundbreaking revelation emerged from the Chandrayaan-1 mission: the discovery of water on the Moon.
Chandrayaan-2, launched on 22 July 2019, was the follow-up mission to India’s Chandrayaan-1 to explore the Moon. It had a three-part spacecraft: an orbiter, a lander named Vikram, and a rover named Pragyan. The main objective was to study the Moon’s surface, including its shape, minerals and elements, and the possibility of water ice. The mission was significant for a few reasons. First, it aimed to show that India could land on the moon, something only a few countries had done before. Second, the mission focused on exploring the Moon’s south polar region, where water ice is hypothesized to exist. Finally, the mission helped advance technology by creating a lunar rover and testing different systems and equipment.
Even if the lander does not successfully land on the surface of the moon, the orbiter continues to orbit and gather important information about the moon. Chandrayaan-2 shows India’s dedication to space exploration and desire to learn more about our closest neighbour.
In a similar vein, the nation of India undertook the effort to launch Chandrayaan-3, thus entering another remarkable chapter in its space programme. The implications of this mission extend beyond the mere advancement and expansion of India’s aerospace initiatives and encompass a wider range of geopolitics (or more appropriately- regopolitics). This exploration into space has significant implications within the geopolitical landscape, encouraging a discourse concerning the interrelationship between political power and the use of space resources.
The initial space race developed during the Cold War between geopolitical rivals the USA and the Soviet Union. Its primary objective is to demonstrate technological superiority and gain an edge in the field of space exploration. When the Apollo 11 mission achieved a milestone by setting foot on the lunar surface in 1969 with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was still in its infancy, hampered by limited access to critical technologies due to geopolitical restrictions.
Fast forward to the present day and India finds itself striving to join the ranks of countries that have successfully completed a lunar landing, operating in a vastly transformed technological landscape. Israel’s Beresheet and Japan’s Hakuto-R missions also failed to land on the moon, while China completed a landing on the far side of the moon with Change 4.
What sets the current space race apart is the emergence of a dynamic ecosystem in which private enterprises compete with publicly funded space missions in major spacefaring nations. This new landscape sparked a race to militarize and commercialize space, with private companies venturing into the bold realms of asteroid mining, Mars colonization, and space tourism. India has released its draft Space Policy 2023 to encourage greater collaboration between the private and public sectors in space exploration.
Today, Indian universities and students are designing nanosatellites to aid research, while startups are exploring new ways to create scalable technologies to colonize the final frontier. With adequate policy support, optimal utilization of skills, imagination; There is no reason why India cannot compete with and surpass Bezos’ Blue Origin or Elon Musk’s SpaceX. After all, the key movers of India’s space program were Prof. Vikram Sarabhai, Dr. Satish Dhawan, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, M. Annadurai and others have taught us time and again to dare to dream! India is one of the leading countries in producing sophisticated, scalable and affordable space technology.
The Moon has immense scientific value, and such missions enable countries to carry out comprehensive research on the Moon’s geology, mineralogy and the overall composition of the celestial sphere. Through lunar exploration, scientists can gain deeper insights into the early days of our solar system and the evolutionary path of Earth. The lunar landings stand as extraordinary technological achievements that expand the boundaries of engineering and space exploration capabilities. Such missions have the potential to exercise soft power, influence international relations and foster partnerships.
Some countries have a vested interest in lunar exploration due to the attraction of potential resources such as water ice, minerals, and helium-3. These precious resources could be harnessed for future space missions, manufacturing processes, or viable energy sources. The Moon’s strategic location and conceivable military applications make it an attractive planetoid for colonization. Establishing a significant presence on the lunar surface offers strategic advantages, including advanced surveillance capabilities or potential military installations. Lunar outposts may serve as vital bases for future human missions to Mars.
India is cooperating with Global North and Global South in space missions. It disseminates critical technology for space missions to those without it, while sharing information gathered from its satellites with some countries. India is now one of the few countries with an indigenous navigation system- NAVIC.
The world will be watching as India tries to land on the moon for the second time. Chandrayaan 2’s mission report has been evaluated by the greatest minds of ISRO. Its mistakes will not be repeated. India’s ability to scale, commercialize but deliver quality in space missions has made it the envy of the world. Geopolitically, India’s rise and technological prowess is illustrated by ISRO’s persistence and dedication to landing on the moon. The moon is no longer a distant mystical moon. The day when Indian astronauts will land on the moon to set up an Indian flag and base is closer than one can imagine. The nation awaits the landing of Chandrayaan 3 with bright eyes and immense optimism!
About the Authors:
Pooja Arora is a PhD Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University and a graduate of the London School of Economics.
Umesh Chandra Ajmira, Dr. Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University
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