The India Space Research Organization (ISRO) has created history with the successful ‘soft landing’ of its lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3, on the Moon’s south pole.
The touchdown on the lunar surface makes India the world’s first country to successfully land it’s space craft on the lunar south pole and the fourth nation to succeed in its lunar mission, after the U.S., Russia and China.
The South Pole of moon is dark, cratered and a difficult terrain to land on. The temperatures in this region can fall below – 200 degrees Celsius, creating extreme conditions that are not conducive for long and sustained operation of instruments.
So, while spacecrafts have landed on the Moon in the past, the polar regions have remained unexplored. A successful mission can thus yield valuable insights into the early solar system as the extreme cold of the polar region will have preserved particles and elements over billions of years. Chandrayaan-3’s landing module, which consists of the Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover, is carrying a payload that will provide scientists with data on lunar soil and rock properties, including chemical and elemental composition.
What makes the mission more exciting is the prospect of finding water on the Moon.
While India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar mission was the first to find evidence of water on the Moon in 2008, Chandrayaan-3 can shed light on whether there are reserves of water that can be extracted economically. This will have enormous implications for future manned missions to the Moon.
‘Innovate in India’
Chandrayaan-3’s success has boosted our self-belief as a nation. We have secured our position as an exclusive member of the global space club. The propulsion module, landing module and a rover of Chandrayaan-3 have all been developed indigenously, demonstrating that India has the latest technologies required for conducting successful interplanetary missions.
Through successful landing of Chandrayaan – 3, we have succeeded where several other developed countries have failed. ISRO, through its pursuit of excellence, has created a powerful and formidable brand for India, which is about leadership in science & technology and innovation excellence.
Our national space agency has demonstrated India’s potential to drive ‘affordable innovation’ that can deliver high value with frugal resources. It has been acknowledged that at USD 75 million, the Chandrayaan-3 mission’s budget is less than half of the USD 165 million spent on the production of the Hollywood sci-fi movie Interstellar.
While the U.S. and Soviet Union have landed robotic spacecraft on the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s, the set of challenges today for space landing and exploration technology are very different than those faced by the Apollo and Luna missions. In the future, space exploration will require major technological advances in a number of areas. In terms of accuracy, landers will need to be very precise in their approach to do a safe soft landing without potentially damaging sensitive equipment. Also, their payload capability will have to be higher to increase mission returns and to start building things on the target site. Importantly, landers will need to operate independently of humans, taking decisions in real time. Having demonstrated all these with Chandrayaan-3, India can now capitalise on its reputation for cost-competitive engineering.
India’s space sector is currently valued at USD 8 billion, and accounts for a 2% share in the global space economy. The Indian government aspires to increase this to 9% by 2030. At its current trajectory, India’s space economy could reach USD 40 billion by 2040, however, with the right strategy, India has the potential to do more and achieve USD 100 billion by 2040, when the global space market is projected to reach USD 1 trillion, according to a recent report by consultancy firm Arthur D. Little.
Our Space Program
As a developing economy, India’s budget for space science has been traditionally modest, which evoked a lot of scepticism about our country’s capability. Today, ISRO is the world’s sixth largest national space agency. We have been able to achieve so much in a few decades because of the vision of our scientists.
Dr Vikram Sarabhai, the founding father of India’s space program, while taking charge of ISRO in 1969, had said:
“There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation… But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.”
The Chandrayaan missions have aimed to do just that – they have showcased India’s prowess in space technology and contributed to humanity’s understanding of the Moon’s geology, composition, and potential resources. We have already had two missions, Chandrayaan-1, India’s first lunar mission in 2008, which was a total success; Chandrayaan-2, in 2019, was partially successful, as it crash landed, but it’s orbitor stayed the course and continued to send valuable data till date.
ISRO’s Success is a Story of ‘Affordable Innovation’
Today, ISRO is proof of what inspirational leadership can achieve with frugal resources. It has proven beyond doubt that it is not about the amount of money you invest but it is about the scientific conviction and passion that you display which can help you reach for the stars. The space agency has leveraged India’s value advantage of unmatched scientific talent and cost-competitive manufacturing to deliver scale, speed and quality.
Now that ISRO has built credibility through world-beating scientific excellence, the path ahead is going to be even more exciting.