SPACE STATION FOR INDIA

APR 26

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IN NEWS:

  • Russia announced that it would be withdrawing from the International Space Station in 2025, and plans to build and manage its own space station.

INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION:

  • A space station is a spacecraft capable of supporting crew members, designed to remain in space for an extended period of time and for other spacecraft to dock.
  • The International Space Station (ISS) is a habitable artificial satellite in low Earth orbit.
  • It is a multinational collaborative project involving five participating space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada).
  • The ownership and use of the space station are established by intergovernmental treaties and agreements.
  • The ISS is intended to be a laboratory, observatory, and factory while providing transportation, maintenance, and a low Earth orbit staging base for missions to the Moon, Mars, and asteroids.

INDIA AND SPACE STATION:

  • In 2019, India decided not to join the International Space Station. Rather, India will instead build a 20-ton space station on its own.
  • ISRO has plans to have its own space station, and modalities for it will be worked out after the first manned mission, Gaganyaan, scheduled for August 2022.

WHY INDIA NEED A SPACE STATION?

  • Next stage of space program: Constructing a space station after being able to safely orbit a crew in Low Earth Orbit is a natural progression that many advanced space-faring countries have pursued to expand their space capabilities. The announcement by ISRO also falls in line with such a progression.
  • Support Indian missions: A space station could be a pit stop for India’s future space missions such as Mangalyaan 2Aditya L1 and Shukrayaan-1. This can greatly help expand the life of missions and reduce the cost of missions. It can also benefit India's existing array of space assets such as the IRNSS
  • Venture into new areas of science: Having a space station can help India venture into cutting edge research under microgravity conditions in various disciplines, including biology, human physiology, and physical, material and space science.
  • Stay ahead in the ‘race for space’: Space is slowly yet steadily becoming the next front in warfare. Also, space technologies are becoming a fundamental part of defence technologies, in the form of quantum-encrypted communication and advanced air defence systems. Hence, having a strong presence in space will be strategically vital for India in the coming years.
  • Encourage indigenous space industry: A fully indigenous space station will demand a strong indigenous production capability in the form of startups and private entrepreneurship. Also, the government’s recent announcement to promote private involvement in India’s space sector can effectively be utilized for the development of the space station.
  • Expand space commercialization: Given India’s cost-effective space sector, an Indian space station can attract potential collaborations with other countries. It also offers new areas of investment in the form of Space tourism, resource extraction etc.
  • International prestige: When completed, India would be the fourth country to launch a space station after the US, Russia and China. This will reaffirm India’s place in the global space industry.

CHALLENGES AHEAD:

  • Financial resources: The ISS costs $3 billion (Approx. Rs. 20,000 crore) for NASA alone in maintenance cost a year and $100 billion (~?6,50,000 crore) in assembling it. Though India may not be planning anything of that scale, the cost of assembling and maintenance will be huge.
  • Technological barriers: Many of the developments, such as manned missions and reusable vehicles, are still in the development phase. Also, India lacks Heavy-lift launch vehicles (Vehicles with payload capacity of 20-50 tonnes) vital for the launch of next generation heavy satellites and components for the proposed space station.  
  • Information barrier: The amount of information on space technologies available in the public sphere is still limited. Also, space related research and development is largely centered around the ISRO. Balancing between sharing knowledge and National security will be a challenge in collaborating with private sector.  
  • Lack of self-sustaining market: Commercial space sector is still a nascent field and the only dominant customer is the government. Hence, prolonged government involvement will continue to be a crucial factor for the success of the station.
  • Indigenous Industry: It needs to be seen whether India’s nascent space industries can cater the demand for cutting edge technologies needed for a space station.
  • COVID-19 induced slowdown: The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the faults in India’s social sector, especially in healthcare. To spend in space sector during this time could raise a question on judicious spending of public resources.

WAY FORWARD:

  • To bring the ideas behind AatmaNirbhar Bharat to reality requires a major overhaul of government led Space activities. A space law for India has been long overdue. Such a law is needed to encourage a vibrant space industry within the country and facilitate India’s growing share in the global space economy.
  • For full realization of a space station, India needs to have a long-term space agenda. The agenda should include human space programs, plans for interplanetary explorations and prospecting asteroid mining.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. India has achieved remarkable successes in space missions including the Chandrayaan and Mars Orbiter Mission, and it is time India venture into developing its own space station? Explain critically.