As the Chandrayaan 3 is on the way to the Moon, India determines to play a crucial role in lunar exploration, positioning itself alongside major space powers. After failing at the first attempt of putting a robotics spacecraft on the surface of the moon in 2019, in case the execution of the Chandrayaan-3 mission is successful, India will become the forth nation to achieve a soft landing on the moon following the United States, Russia and China. The feat is further unique as it will mark India as the first nation to land near unexplored south pole of the moon. India’s Prime Minister Modi has emphasized that Chandrayaan-3 signifies a new chapter in India’s space odyssey. A global race is in hyper-drive to claim what the lunar surface has to offer. The trend of sending astronauts to the Moon will recommence soon as the United States, China and Russia already have announced that they have plans to achieve their missions by 2024, 2025 and 2030 respectively. This time around, India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission is not just scientific exploration but it also exhibits India’s ‘Nationalism’ and aspirations of becoming a global space power amid domestic challenges.
While the BJP government has been dealing with several national issues including ethnic violence in the North-Eastern state Manipur, rising unemployment and multidimensional poverty added with the defeat of the ruling party in Karnataka assembly election, the Lunar mission Chandrayaan-3 has been used as a shield to safeguard the political motive of the ruling party and projects ‘Nationalism’ in a subtle manner.
Chandrayaan 3 is a revitalized effort following the failure of the initial robotic spacecraft landing attempt in 2019. In Hindi, the meaning of ‘Chandrayaan’ is “moon craft”. In 2008, ISRO launched Chandrayaan 1, an orbiter which lasted less than a year. In 2019, though the Chandrayaan-2 mission lifted off successfully, there were complications during landing resulting in its crash on the Moon’s surface. Chandrayaan 3 comprises of a redesigned lander with stronger landing legs, more propellant, additional solar cells. The software of the spacecraft has also been updated to achieve a successful landing. The journey of roughly 40 days by the Chandrayaan-3 from the earth to the moon is divided into three distinct segments; the earth-centric phase, the lunar transfer phase and the moon-centric phase. Essentially, the spacecraft will make five orbits around the Earth with increasing distance and place itself on a Lunar transfer trajectory in the final sweep. In Phase-3, the spacecraft will be inserted into Lunar orbit and move four times around the moon approaching nearer to the Lunar surface with each subsequent loop. Upon successful landing the spacecraft will conduct thermal, seismic and mineralogical measurements of the lunar surface as a part of two-week experiment. Undeniably, the accretion of lunar data shall prove immensely valuable to the erudite community of scientists and augur a transformative epoch in the realm of future space exploration. Moreover, it shall unreservedly manifest as a quintessential emblem of our nation’s audacious power projection amidst the space race for supremacy.
“China dream, Space dream”- China’s ambitious space plans also include transporting two rockets to the moon carrying the astronauts and a lander probe by 2030. In 2020, China became the third nation after the United States and Russia, which has been successful in retrieving lunar samples back to earth. Beijing’s aggressive space advancements and ambition in space definitely agonizes New Delhi. The success of Chandryaan 3 will mark a strong position for India to counter China’s hegemony in the moon. New Delhi’s old friend Moscow’s
enhancing space cooperation with Beijing is also a raising concern. Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and China National Space Administration (CNSA) have signed a bilateral agreement on space corporation. They also have inked a deal to create an international scientific lunar station. It was announced at the Global Space Exploration conference 2021 in St. Petersburg that the construction of the Lunar station is expected to be completed by 2035.
It is intelligible as to why New Delhi has escalated its collaboration with Washington for space mission. It has been announced that NASA will provide training for Indian astronauts at Johnson Space Center aiming at a joint effort to the International Space Station in 2024. This year in June, during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the United States, India signed the Artemis Accord, a US-led international partnership on civil space exploration. Another notable collaboration is the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar mission which will track changes in the Earth’s land and ice surfaces using advanced radar. It is scheduled to launch the satellite from India in 2024. India’s growing space partnership with the US clearly reflects India’s strategy to boost its space capabilities as well as to gain a stronghold in the outer space.
While the moon is colonized by the major space powers, a successful Chandryaan-3 mission opens avenues for India to play a significant role in democratizing the moon and the outer space in future. Through South-South cooperation India can a leading nation to help other nations in developing lunar programs by space cooperation and sharing scientific data collected from the lunar surface. Even though the 1967 Outer Space Treaty allows countries to use resources like minerals and ice mined on asteroids, the moon, Mars and elsewhere in the solar system, but it does not address resource-sharing protocols. India’s space partnerships with other nations can pave the way for peaceful space exploration and face new challenges beyond geopolitical boundaries.
It is also notable that the Chandrayaan-3 is a cost-effective lunar mission with an estimated budget of $75 million. It is pertinent to mention that Chandrayaan’s components have been indigenously manufactured by Indian companies under ISRO’s home grown space program. With India’s thriving space industry with over 400 private space companies, India ranks 5th globally in the number of space companies. ISRO has signed six agreements with four countries for launching foreign satellites between 2021-2023. A successful Chandrayaan 3 mission will foster greater participation from start-up companies and attract more foreign investment, offering India with a substantial opportunity to boost its space economy.
Beyond the scientific achievements, the Chandrayaan-3 mission assumes profound symbolism, encapsulating India’s resolute ambition to emerge as preeminent contender in the space race. Moreover, India’s strategic space diplomacy, collaborations, and partnerships hold the potential to democratize lunar and outer space exploration, contributing to an international space community and peaceful space endeavours. The success of Chandrayaan 3 also holds immense economic promise, enabling India to capitalize on investment opportunities and foster a vibrant space industry.