Is India Winning The Space Race?

China recently became the third country to land a probe on the Moon on January 2, 2019 but its operation is a more significant issue since the probe landed on the dark side of the moon- a historic feat which no other country has achieved. The probe, Chang’e 4 is symbolic of the growth of China’s space domain.

The Japan space agency is an old entrant to the space race. It recently launched a rocket carrying seven satellites, including one that aims to create the world’s first artificial meteor shower. Imitating China’s success in the space, European Space Agency too does not want to be left behind. It has started on a new plan to mine the Moon’s surface by 2025. The use of space resources will be a key to sustainable lunar exploration as these resources will enhance the credibility of the European Space Agency in creating its own niche in the ongoing space wars.

NASA and Russia have always been a frontrunner in the space contest. They have already sent manned missions to the moon and innumerable satellites to improve upon their space technological advancement. NASA already owns International Space Station and is already performing experiments in the space. Also, NASA New Horizon spacecraft has become the first man made artificial satellite to sight all the known members of the Pluto system.

Space Race

Let us see what is space race? The term ‘space race’ was coined in the 20th century when there was a cold war between, the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (US). Both the countries fought for space dominance in space flight capability. The technological superiority was seen as necessary to place a hold on the national security and finally on ideological superiority. It led to the contest to launch artificial satellites and manned mission to Moon and low Earth orbit.

The space race has left a legacy of communications satellites and weather satellites and continued human presence in the space through International Space Station. It also brought spin off effect with large number of countries starting their own space agencies to capture this domain.

The new question thus arises is, if the cold war is over why are we hearing this term again? And the answer to this is that the dominance in space race in those times served as a reminder to each other, as to which country had the best science, technology and economic system. This showcasing method of maintaining superiority over each other continues today. Each country wants to have a strong hold in the World Seat. A powerful discovery or invention thrusts upon the fact that the nation is also strong in terms of national security. An advancement in the space domain is seen as an advancement in military technology. There is a link in having a secure rocket technology with a robust space agency and what better way to showcase your strength, than in completing a successful space mission, thereby dominating the headlines world over.

India’s Position in Space Race

With every country competing to win this space war, India too does not want to be left behind. India has launched more than 80 spacecraft since its maiden launch in 1975. India’s space research activities are controlled by state owned Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

ISRO is currently operating INSAT and GSAT series communication satellites, earth observation satellites, and IRNSS series navigational satellites. India has fleets of hybrid satellites such as TES and Cartosat, where they both serve as military and civilian applications. India also has its own navigational satellite to provide precise position with respect to time rather than relying on Marican GPS. India has a dedicated defense satellite GSAT-7 which serves the military. India also executed the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) at a cost of 75 million USD, which is just one-tenth of NASA's budget of the MAVEN Mars mission.

The world took notice of India when it achieved the rare feat of launching record breaking 104 nano satellites into orbit, all on board a single rocket. This feat is significant as it broke the Russian record of launching the maximum number of satellites and also marked India as an emerging player in the burgeoning private market.

ISRO’s major feat has been the launch of Chandrayaan which provided the evidence of water in moon, which no other agency has been able to. It also made an entry into launching heavy payload satellites with the GSLV (Mk III), which has an inbuilt indigenously designed cryogenic engine.

India’s space Mission which started full-fledged in the 80’s has advanced since then in leap and bounds. Indian Government has increased the budget for its space programme. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a Gaganyaan Project- which is an Indian Human Space Flight Programme, intended to put astronauts in the space by 2022. If India manages to achieve this feat, it will not only bring laurel to the country but will also showcase ISRO as a leading player space player.

All these developments have placed India at an excellent position in the space race. India has emerged as a “key player” in a growing commercial market for space based surveillance and communication.

India is not contesting for its way just between the countries. With its recent growth, it is also challenging the private players such as SpaceX and Blue Origin. SpaceX has carved a name for itself in the field of reusable launch vehicle. ISRO too has recently announced its entry into the field. This will help India to cement its place as a serious player in the growing commercial market.

With its lower cost and capability to acquire local based resources, India has gained a reputation globally for its effective low cost missions. All these development points in a single direction- India’s ambition to join the elite space faring nations.

India has an edge with respect to other countries because of its cost effective missions. The cost of sending a spaceship to another planet are extremely high and unlike government agencies, private companies need to see a return on their investment. As ISRO launches large number of satellites in just one space, it has brought the focus back to its scientific and technological advancement.

Is India Winning the Space Race?

The answer is vacillating.

Yes, If we look altogether our history of past space conquests. The pathway has been difficult but India has managed to achieve this feat with its limitations.India space mission has altogether a different objective. Rather than focussing on military aspect. India has focussed on space exploration. The purpose of the mission has always been peaceful. Previously the goals of ISRO were significantly different from those USA and Soviet Union. The goals of the above were entrenched in space exploration whereas India was keen to develop its satellite capabilitiesfor mapping and surveying crops and damage from natural disasters and erosion, for instance. The satellite communication was also used to bring telemedicine and telecommunication to remote rural areas.

It is also justified since India has been a developing country whose goals were to eradicate poverty and create employment. To compete with the developed nations or economically advanced country in the space domain has been far-fetched dream. However, if India wants to play a meaningful role nationally and in the community of nations, it needed to complement them in the application of advanced technology.

India’s battle in the space race is to gain and celebrate national pride. The success also portrays that the nation has become self-sufficient and can develop its own technologies. Also, if we compare ourselves with the rest of the world, we are still lagging behind. Economically advanced countries have boundless funds and are technologically more advance than us. These counties have made leaps in science, with reusable space shuttles, manned missions and exploratory programmes of Mars, Saturn and Sun.

The objective of these countries is military in nature. The superpowers are portraying their immense potential through conquering space. The space race has blown in gigantic proportion due to immense competition and rivalry between the space agencies. India though is a new entrant to these exploration, it can be absolutely said that it is giving a tough fight to these nations.


China wants to reach Mars by 2020 and also wants to send a probe to Jupiter and its moon, striving in its quests to become a major space player. European space agency will be sending a robot to Mars to search for life by 2022, while UAE too wants to build a minacity on Mars. These efforts of countries signal that the space war is not ending anytime soon. Rather other nations too will be joining in.

India’s space agency is already riding high with its past successful missions. In order to create dominance in the field, we need to increase the space budget (which is miniscule as compared to other countries) and enhanced research and technological advancement. India also can’t lose sight of the fact that it main development goals remains the same. With limited and cash strapped government, ISRO on one hand should be economically driven and on the other should provide state of the art scientific achievements. The reality that it has managed to do so is in itself a tour de force.

Source : CSE (MARCH, 2019), pg no. 68-69