India’s Chandrayaan-3, denoting “lunar ship” in the Sanskrit language, managed to safely land on the moon yesterday. This historic event took place in the uncharted lunar southern pole, marking a significant global milestone.
A prior Indian lunar landing attempt faced a setback in 2019, and the current mission occurs in close temporal proximity to Russia’s inaugural lunar mission in nearly half a century. Russia’s mission, also targeted at this same lunar region, failed with a crash landing on the lunar surface a couple of days ago.
The lunar expedition is fundamentally rooted in scientific endeavour, national prestige politics, and the emergent prospect of fiscal gains.
Russia’s Luna-25, which embarked on its mission less than a fortnight ago, was initially poised to be the frontrunner in this endeavour – a position, however, that faltered as the lander tragically succumbed to orbital descent, potentially jeopardizing funding for any subsequent missions, according to industry experts.
This seemingly abrupt rivalry to access a hitherto unexplored lunar territory evokes the reminiscence of the space race during the 1960s when the United States and the Soviet Union were in fierce competition.
However, the contemporary space arena is characterized by a commercial paradigm, with the moon’s southern polar vicinity holding immense strategic value due to the presence of water ice, a resource envisioned to underpin future lunar colonies, mining enterprises, and prospective missions to Mars.
Under the auspices of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has embraced the privatization of space launch activities and is actively contemplating foreign investment infusion into the sector, with an ambitious aim to quintuple its share of the global launch market within the next decade.
Industry analysts project that India’s space sector will leverage its reputation for cost-competitive engineering. Remarkably, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) embarked on this mission with a budget of approximately $74 million. In stark contrast, NASA is projected to allocate an estimated $93 billion towards its Artemis lunar program through 2025, as ascertained by the inspector general of the U.S. space agency.
The successful completion of this mission elevates the stature of all stakeholders involved. It signifies that ISRO’s achievements are viewed in a global context and a cause for immense pride for all Indians.
NASA’s strategy for engaging private sector investment has served as a template for India’s endeavours in this domain, as corroborated by officials in India.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX, for instance, is diligently developing the Starship rocket, not only for satellite launch operations but also to facilitate lunar surface transport for NASA astronauts, under a substantial $3-billion contract. Beyond this contract, SpaceX has publicly articulated an estimated investment of approximately $2 billion in Starship for the current fiscal year.
Private entities like Axiom Space and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are embarking on privately financed ventures to succeed the International Space Station and build alternative private space stations. Axiom Space recently announced the acquisition of $350 million in funding.
The successful completion of this mission establishes India as the fourth nation in the annals of human space exploration to achieve the feat of lunar satellite landing. This distinction has thus far been attained solely by the former Soviet Union, the United States, and China.