What Impact Did The Chandrayaan-3 Have On The Global Space Race? (Part-1)
The geek in me couldn’t stop rambling on... so we’ll post the blog in two parts!
Part A: Background of the Space Race and Space Technology
Rockets have allowed humans access to space. Sounds simple, but the history is quite rich. The world would have been very different today if the Chinese didn’t use Black Powder (AKA Gun Powder) to propel ‘fire arrows’ in the 12th Century – or maybe not; maybe someone else would invent it!
The Arabs would refine the recipe of the Black Powder, which would make arrows more lethal, earning the name missiles / rockets. Rockets were used in India as well; Tipu Sultan used Mysorean Rockets to fight the British in late 18th century. In late 19th century, rocket science started to make big leaps. We had learnt how to liquify gases, which lead to development of liquid engine rockets. However, investments into rocket research and development would increase only during war. Rockets became a big deal when nuclear weapons were developed.
Imagine being able to launch a nuclear warhead, from anywhere, to anywhere using sub-orbital space, in a matter of minutes. Post the second world war, rockets were thus being developed as Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)! This eventually led to the Space Race between the US and the USSR. These ICBMs were modified to build rockets that could carry satellites and other payloads into orbital space. The space race made the two countries invest rocket-loads of money into space programs, which resulted into the Moon Landing, Space Stations, the GPS, 100-meter-tall rockets and various other technologies that changed the world to what we know today.
Militarisation of space became a grave concern; space became the fourth or the final frontier, leading to The Outer Space Treaty in 1967 which laid out principles to govern activities in outer space, limiting it to peaceful purposes only. However, the treaty is out-dated, and the global context has drastically changed. Today, space technology is considered “Strategic Technology” which provides strategic advantage in military, manufacturing, and overall capacity building and economic growth of a country.
Space Technology is difficult, futuristic and highly advanced. It leads to development of advanced manufacturing techniques, and truly pushes the boundaries of what technology can do. Solving complex problems of space technology and human space flight ended up solving problems back on Earth. These ‘Spin-offs’ provided a supplementary boost to the space sector and gathered public support.
Zero-to-one technology requires the brightest of minds and results into various inventions. The one-to-n journey helps commercialise the technology through scale and mass production methods. This is how technology has a trickle-down effect which results in overall growth of a country.
However, what else does space have to offer? It’s quite simple – the scale and the environment. The scale provides space data, space imagery, internet and location services at Earth scale, which can be coupled with technology on the ground like IoT, Robotics, AI/ML, and revolutionise multiple domains like agriculture, mining, infrastructure, energy, healthcare, climate change, the list will just go on. The space environment, however, unlocks a new realm of space possibilities.
The micro-gravity environment allows novel manufacturing methods, for example 3D printing human organs. It also allows creation of a unique, controlled set-up, resulting into a space research lab, like the one at the International Space Station currently running over a hundred science experiments.
Space technology with its downstream applications (downstream: using space data and insights for various applications on Earth) has been one of the major drivers for the New Space wave. New Space is the recent phenomenon of privatisation of space. Private players have taken charge to unlock space technology and its benefits for the masses.
Investments in downstream applications, space-for-earth applications makes sense; with the right partnerships, space data could be put to great use. However, investments from national budgets into space programs and missions to Mars and the Moon are usually under heavy scrutiny and debate. Pursuit of science couldn’t be the only aspect to these glorious and technologically advanced missions. What are the real inspirations and benefits behind sending humans to space, rovers to the Moon, or building a Moon Base? Why did India go to the Moon?
Let’s explore the possibilities. The Moon is like a time capsule, it doesn’t have an atmosphere, the amount of tectonic activity is quite low and there are permanently shadowed regions which has preserved the ice present there. The time capsule thus helps us understand the formation of planets, moons and solar systems – and understand our place in the universe better.
Lunar Base and Lunar Space Station other than being incredible research facilities also become training grounds, to prepare humans for deep space missions; to prepare for life far away from home... for our pursuit to Mars!
The Chandrayaan-3 covered various science missions, it had an X-Ray Spectrometer, it sent a probe into the lunar surface to study its composition and it even performed a hop-test to showcase lift-off capability from the Moon. However, these are still scientific aspects of the mission. How does Chandrayaan-3 fit into the global space race? What roles are being played by geopolitics and India’s new space policy?
Let's find out in the next blog!