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New Space Race and India

2023 SEP 6

Mains   > Science and Technology   >   Space technology   >   Basics of space technology


  • Recently, India successfully launched its first mission, Aditya-L1, to the Sun.
  • Also, Chandrayaan-3 becomes the first probe to land near the lunar south pole, and the seemingly sudden competition to get to a previously unexplored region of the moon along with other space exploration by various countries recalls the space race of the 1960s, when the United States and the Soviet Union competed.


  • 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 countries fought for space dominance in terms of space flight capability.
  • Technological superiority was seen as necessary to place a hold on national security and, finally, ideological superiority. It led to the contest to launch artificial satellites and manned missions to the moon and low Earth orbit.
  • The space race has left a legacy of communications and weather satellites and a continued human presence in space through the International Space Station. It also had a spin-off effect, with a large number of countries starting their own space agencies to capture this domain.



    • India's first crewed space mission plans to launch a crew of three to an orbit of 400 km for a three-day mission before landing in Indian waters.
    • The ISRO said it will focus on achieving a sustained human presence in space once Gaganyaan is completed.
    • NASA-ISRO SAR (NISAR) is a low-Earth orbit observatory system jointly developed by NASA and ISRO. NISAR will map the entire planet once every 12 days, providing data for understanding changes in ecosystems, ice mass, vegetation biomass, sea level rise, ground water and natural hazards including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides.
    • The satellite is set to be launched from India in the first quarter of next year, with a target launch set for January.
    • India is also building its first dedicated polarimetry mission to study cosmic X-ray sources.
    • The mission is aimed at unfolding new frontiers in high-energy astrophysics and will allow in-depth investigations of neutron stars and black hole sources. The ISRO has not set a launch date for this mission yet.


    • ISRO on September 2 launched the country's ambitious Solar mission, Aditya-L1.
    • The spacecraft will be placed in an orbit around the Lagrange point 1 (L1) of the Sun-Earth system, about 1.5 million km (930,000 miles) from Earth, where the gravitational effects of both bodies cancel each other out. The mission aims to observe solar activities and their effects on space weather in real time
  • Chandrayaan-3:
    • On August 23, India became the first country to safely land a craft in the Moon's south pole region. The mission is ongoing, with the ISRO saying its rover had confirmed the presence of sulphur, iron, oxygen and other elements on the moon.


  • Chandrayaan-2:
    • In 2019, the ISRO launched its second moon mission, its first attempt to study the lunar south pole. The mission included an orbiter, lander and rover, and was launched amid high expectations. Although it deployed the orbiter successfully, the lander crashed.
  • Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM):
    • In 2013, ISRO became the fourth space agency to put a spacecraft in the Mars orbit. MOM, which had a projected mission time of only six months, did not lose contact with ground controllers until 2022.
  • Chandrayaan-1:
    • India's first mission to the Moon was launched successfully in 2008. The satellite made more than 3,400 orbits around the moon and confirmed the presence of water ice on the moon; the mission concluded when communication with the spacecraft was lost on Aug. 29, 2009.


  • Reliable history:
    • ISRO has already established itself as a formidable figure in the international space forum. Hence, it can act as a foundation upon which the Indian space sector, including the private sector can explore its opportunities in the new space race.
  • Indigenous capabilities:
    • India has a reliable cadre of launch vehicles, ranging from the small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV) to the heavy duty GSLVs. It has also expanded researches into reusable launch vehicles and crew modules, which are vital for future interplanetary missions. 
  • Cost effectiveness:
    • Indian space technology is one of the cheapest, yet most reliable in the world. Thus, it offers an attractive market for customers, especially small nations, industries and universities.
    • For instance, the Chandrayaan-3 mission has incurred a total cost of 75 million USD for ISRO. On the other hand, Christopher Nolan's movie Interstellar, renowned for its depiction of space, had a budget of 165 million USD, which is more than double the budget of Chandrayaan-3.
  • Favourable demography:
    • The country has a strong population of technical educated English-speaking youth, who can potentially become the workforce for space-based industries across the world.  
  • Favourable government policies:
    • As part of the AatmaNirbhar Bharat Package, the government had decided to enhance private partnership in the space sector.
    • The government has also adopted favourable investment policies, like opening up sectors for foreign investment, easing up resolution process and codifying the multitude of labour and industrial laws
    • For instance, the government approved the Indian Space Policy 2023. 
    • The Indian Space Policy 2023 delineated the roles and responsibilities of ISRO, the space sector PSU NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), and the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe). It allows the private sector to take part in end-to-end space activities that include building satellites, rockets, and launch vehicles, as well as data collection and dissemination. 
  • Good foreign relations:
    • India has cordial relations with all major developed and developing countries. This factor, along with the technological advances, reliability, and cost effectiveness of Indian programmes, puts India ahead in the new space race.
  • Growth potential:
    • The global space economy is currently valued at about USD 360 billion. However, India accounts for only about 2% of the space economy but aspires to grow to USD 50 billion by 2024. Hence, India's active participation in the new space race will help it harness the immense potential of the global space economy.


  • Import dependency:
    • Even as ISRO has been raising its domestic sourcing, some materials and electronic components are still imported—the space agency pegs the share of the imported components at around 10% for launch vehicles and 50-55% for satellites.
  • Legislative barriers:
    • There is no comprehensive or specific law regarding space exploration in India.
  • Information barrier:
    • Space related research and development is largely centred around the ISRO and the amount of information on space technologies available in the public sphere is limited. This hinders the development of indigenous space start-ups.
  • Technological barriers:
    • Many of the developments, like 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 interplanetary missions.   
  • Lack of self-sustaining market:
    • Commercial space sector is still a nascent field and the only dominant customer is the government. Hence, government involvement will continue to be a crucial factor for the success of the commercial exploits.
  • Access to capital:
    • There are only a few institutions in India capable of long-term capital lending, which is crucial for space exploration, especially for private sector participation.


  • A space law for India is needed to encourage a vibrant space industry within the country and facilitate India’s growing share in the global space economy.
  • Demand for space-based services in India is far greater than what ISRO can supply. Hence, Private sector investment is critical, for which a suitable policy environment needs to be created.
  • These policies should have a vision to develop an ecosystem that will encourage and enable SMEs as well as entrepreneurs to develop end-to-end products and services that are globally scalable.


Q. "Sudden competition to get to a previously unexplored region of the moon, along with other space exploration by various countries, recalls the space race of the 1960s". Critically analyse India's role in the new space race.