India In a New Orbit – By Author Partha Pratim Paul

India In a New Orbit – By Author Partha Pratim Paul

Sky is always been a fascinating and curiousness for mankind from the Stone Age to till date. Humans continuously make efforts to solve mysteries of glittery objects.

In earlier days, we had believed that the model of the universe was that our earth was stationary and all the other objects in the sky, the sun, the moon, planets, and stars were moving in circular orbits about the earth. From that model of our universe to today’s model is totally different, we gradually and thoroughly gathered knowledge and now, we know even our solar system travels around the center of our galaxy. The solar system moves about a 60-degree angle between the galactic plane and the planetary orbital plane. It takes around 230 to 250 million years to make a full orbit around the center of the galaxy. Our cosmic home Milky Way galaxy is one of those two trillion galaxies present in the observable universe.

We see the biggest extraterrestrial object in our sky is the moon, the most attractive and shining object. The moon is always been in our poems and songs as a symbol of love. Now, the moon is not only attracting our poets and lyricists, but even our scientists find interesting for their space mission. Till the time writing of this article total of 140 moon missions, we did so far. Out of which 9 were human mission. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans walked on the lunar surface, when Apollo 11 of USA landed successfully on 20th July 1969. Before that Luna-2 of the Soviet Union launched on September 12th, 1959 was the first man-made object to impact the moon. China’s Chang’e program has been successful in several moon missions.

How long India could be behind in space research development, the Chandrayan Programme also known as the Indian Lunar Exploration Programme, August 2003 the Indian government announced the Chandrayan project that would cost around Rs. 350 crore and would carry an orbiter only. After visiting then president A P J Abdul Kalam in ISRO, he suggested orbiter alone would not be sufficient, Let’s embraced the moon completely, another instrument that could be dropped. The design of the project was changed and a Moon Impact Probe (MIP) was included. It was planned to drop MIP from 100 km altitude and would acquire close-range images and data of the surface and measure constituents of the lunar atmosphere for future soft-landing missions.

Today the entire nation is celebrating the success of Chandrayaan-3 mission. The story of success was written on the base of all learnings and research from the past missions of Chandrayaan-1 and Chandrayaan-2. Especially from the failure of the soft landing of the Chandrayaan-2. This time ISRO worked on the principle of mitigating all expected failures, whereas at the time of the Chandrayaan-2, they tried to land successfully on the lunar surface. They took every minute detail on a serious note at every step, sensor failure, engine failure, algorithm failure and calculation failure. Moreover, loaded additional aid for making fully ensure for soft landing on the south pole of the lunar. Instead of one orbital high-resolution camera, they added two for the detailed floor map of 28 cm resolution, instead of one they added 2 TTC antennas, for hovering another 60 minutes extra 250 kg of fuel was loaded, additional solar panels all around the landing module, for accurate estimation of speed and distance added Doppler Velocity Monitor. 

Chandrayan-3 had been moving inch by inch and fixing its footprints of success in space for India. Every day, we were getting news of the spacecraft. The feeling of pride was as if our son or daughter creating milestones in his or her career. 14th July 2023 Chandrayaan-3 successfully launched into orbit; on the following day 15th July the first orbit-raising maneuver was successfully performed. On 5th August Chandrayaan-3 successfully inserted into the lunar orbit. 16th August ISRO said the spacecraft successfully underwent a fifth and final lunar orbit, 153 km * 163 km. On 17th August ISRO announced that the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft’s lander module had successfully separated from the propulsion module. The module comprising the lander “Vikram” and the rover “Pragyan” were now ready to be lowered into orbit. On 18th August Vikram lander sent the moon’s images. In an official post ISRO posted that two-way communication between the chandrayan-2 orbiter and the chandrayan-3’s lander module had been established. They said now MOX (Mission Operations Complex) had more routes to reach LM (Lander Module). On 22nd August, on a day before of the final landing ISRO announced that they would take the final call on landing only after an assessment of two hours before the scheduled landing. The landing would have been postponed to 27th August if they found the lander module’s health parameters ‘abnormal’. Through the laser Doppler velocimetry (LDV) meter, they were closely monitoring the lunar surface. On that day Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams told National Geographic India. “Landing on the moon will provide us with invaluable insights. I am truly thrilled that India is at the forefront of space exploration and the pursuit of sustainable living on the moon. These are truly exciting times.”

After a voyage of 41 days, after all the day had come when India was going to create a history. Chandrayaan-3 India’s lunar mission generated interest globally after 20th August, Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft crashed into the moon after it spun into an uncontrolled orbit. Everyone was a bundle of nerves as the time was coming closer and closer. Those 18 minutes of the final phase of touching the lunar surface were full of intense anxiety, chanting prayers, crossing fingers, biting nails. In the last phase of soft landing of 18 minutes, the lander module propelled to the moon’s surface as per intended trajectory. In the rough breaking phase, the lander velocity brought down from 1680 m/sec. to 358 m/sec. and the altitude from 30 km to 7.4 km, all in 11.5 minutes of duration. And then after the rough breaking phase and attitude hold phase, it moved to the Fine braking phase, in this phase, it brought down altitude further to 800 meters. The phase was entirely driven and controlled by autonomous landing sequencer and there was no intervention from the ground. And then finally, it approached towards the final stage of landing and moved to the Vertical Descent phase.  

As per local Indian time, at 6:04 PM (IST), after prayers in temples, dargahs and gurudwaras, with tears in eyes of scientists, after traveling around 384400 kilometers with an investment of Rs. 615 crores for the overall project, finally the whole world saw us that we landed on the moon, in the south pole. India has become the first country to land in the south pole region of the lunar.

On that day India’s Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi was in Johannesburg, South Africa to attend the fifteenth BRIC summit, he joined the event online. Later, he declared the day of landing on the moon, 23rd August as a “National Space Day” and said India was now in the front row of nations.

On the triumph day, few news were captured by news headlines other than the detailing of  Chandrayaan-3 mission, which was interesting and may or may not be correlated with Chandrayaan-3 but, interesting to point out here. In the Brics summit including India other country members advocated for expansion of Brics grouping to include other nations. On the following day, we had news that six countries Saudi Arabia, Iran, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, and UAE were decided to join the Brics. Now, Brics has six of the top nine crude oil producers and two largest economies of South America,  and Argentina. On 23rd August we also noticed in the newspaper that the Indian Rupee rose 25 paise against the US dollar, which was settled at a 3-week high, and Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the Brics summit virtually. He alleged war crimes and is wanted under international arrest. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi had expressed India’s concerns on the ‘unsolved issues’ along with the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh to Chinese President Xi Jinping during an interaction on the sideline of the Brics summit.

During the entire mega episode and on the date of the successful landing of the lander module of Chandrayaan-3   on the lunar south pole, this news could able to capture a very small space of newspaper without having any highlights and colour, just simply in a box sharing with other’s news block. But worth to notice in a point of view of the world’s space exploration or more specifically we can say from the eye of race for an acclaiming superpower in space territory. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to South Africa, two agreements were signed on official cooperation between the two countries South Africa and China. One covers human spaceflight and the other involves the international lunar research station, a plan to build a base on the moon backed by China. It was the step to bolster and show a dominant position in the competition for lunar. On a day before India’s successful lunar mission received enormous accolades, Unexpectedly and unannounced absence of Chinese President Xi Jinping from his speech at the Brics business forum, his speech was delivered by Wang Wentao, Chinese Commerce Minister.

India’s road map for space is seen clearly, without giving any gap after the successful event of Chandrayaan-3, on dated 28th August 2023 ISRO announced that India’s first solar mission Aditya L1 would be launched on 2nd September at 11:50 am. The motto of the mission is to study the solar corona, solving how the temperature of the solar corona reaches up to a million degrees while the sun’s surface temperature remains above 6000 degrees centigrade. And to study about the solar waves at L1. The L1 is Sun-Earth Lagrange Point, which is about 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth, it is around four times more distance than the lunar mission, but only 1% of the total distance between The Sun and The Earth. It is the point in space where the gravitational forces of the sun and Earth produce enhanced regions of attraction and repulsion. It can be use by spacecraft to consume less fuel to remain in position. This mission was sanctioned around $46 million in 2019, however, the actual cost as of the date was not revealed.

The ISRO has already chalked out and declared about the mission of Earth’s twin planet, Venus. Unlike the Mars orbital mission in 2014, a demonstration of technology to attract other nations’ space agencies to our capabilities for accomplishing space missions at the lowest cost, Shukrayaan-1, however, the name of the mission of Venus planet is not officially announced, will focus on doing more scientific observation and studies in Venus’s orbit from a 300 km high perch. ISRO has been working on Gaganyaan also, a human spacecraft mission. 

Obviously, the question comes in our mind what it does significantly mean for India or an Indian after expending of so much. In FY 2023-24 the budget was allocated for space department Rs. 12,543.91 crores. India is the country spending 0.05% of its GDP, more than its peers, at least ten members of G20 nations, higher than UK, Canada and Australia. However, India has launched 103 spacecraft, more than European space agencies and developed nations like France. India has also launched 140 objects into outer space so far.

All these space missions show India steadily stepping forward on the road map of global space industry towards making its position as a “Vishwa Guru.” It was proven when ISRO launched 342 foreign satellites of 34 countries in June 2022. Antrix, it is a commercial arm of ISRO, promotes and commercially markets the products and services emanating from the Indian space programme, generated revenue of Rs. 6289 crores by launching 239 satellites from 2016 to 2019. Currently, it’s estimated that the size of India’s space economy is $8 billion and it would go up to $45 billion in the next ten years. India’s share is only about 2% of global space economy which is overall $423 billion. However, it is expected that India will have a chance to take around 10% by 2030 with at the rate of CAGR of 40%.

Back-to-back after the successful mission of Chandrayaan-3 and then the launch of Aditya-L1, India could able to bring global investor’s attention to invest in the Indian space sector. Several private players Larsen & Toubro (L&T), MTAR technologies and Ananth technologies played a pivotal role in these projects. L&T is planning to make a position in commercial satellite launch business and bid for the transfer of technology for Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), which is capable of carrying a payload of up to 500 kg to low orbit of the earth. The company has already bagged a Rs. 860 crore deal as an association with several companies including Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) for end-to-end production of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLVs).

India has some 146 space startups currently compared to only 21 in 2020. Data by IN-SPACe (Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre), is ISRO’s commercial arm. IN-SPACe invited EoI (Expression of Interest) in the July month of 2023, around 70 players have taken interest out of which 20 companies are in the ongoing stage. The Market also saluted to the shares of companies those were involved in supplying critical modules and systems for the mission, touched a new high on the day we touched the lunar’s south pole. Paras Defence & Space Technologies, which contributed navigation system share price high by 5.5%; MTAR Technologies was high by 4.8% and Midhani (Mishra Dhatu Nigam) was high by 3.9%.

Although it is true to say that the Indian space industry is in a transformation phase, it is worth mentioning in between 2010 to 2019 the total funds raised was $35 million. Fundraising reached up to $96 million in 2021 and $112 million in 2022. It is continuously on an upward trajectory, this year in 2023 up to July already funding was $62 million, shows a substantial growth of 60% compare to the same period of the last year. The top three companies on basis of fundraising are Pixxel $ 97.10 million, SkyRoot $72.3 million and Agnikul $34.8 million. On this mission of building a robust private ecosystem in the space industry, IN-SPACe is playing a vital role in guiding startups. Currently, the Indian private players are acting as a vendor for ISRO. To change the mode from a vendor to a global space agency, IN-SPACe serves as a facilitator to transfer technologies originating from ISRO.

To reshape this entire space industry and to explore it with full potential the government of India unleashed reforms in the space domain in 2020, opened the door for NGEs (Non-Government Entities). The vision is to create an ecosystem and to encourage and develop a flourishing commercial presence in space. The ISpA, (Indian Space Association) is a non-profit industry body and that was formed to boost up start up. ISpA’s function is to make ease of doing business and policy stability in the space business, encourage and facilitate all space domain activities and to make understand formalities and how to go about contracts with ISRO to join hand. It provides a policy advocacy platform on behalf of NGEs to the government and acts as a single window agency for stakeholders. Another commercial arm of ISRO, NSIL (NewSpace India Limited) was incorporated in 2019 under administrative control of DOS (Department of Space). It supports and focuses on domestic collaboration for launching vehicles, transfer technology and marketing. It’s making easier and strengthening the country’s space economy. NSIL seeks to change ISRO’s approach to commercialization from a “supply-based model” to a “demand-based model.” Cheap labour and supportive regulations are giving an edge to India in the aerospace industry in the world. The cost of similar missions is much less than the other countries. The successful mission of Chandrayaan-3 was cost Rs. 615 crores and the Russian Luna-25 which unfortunately crashed a week prior, was cost roughly Rs. 1600 crore. France and NASA are also engaging with our ISRO in various projects. Other developed countries have agreed to share technology for the upcoming India’s Shukrayaan-1 mission. 

The timing of Chandrayaan-3 was perfect and has been grasped by news-headlines of every news media. It was the time when several leaders of Brics countries were discussing on global issues and other developing countries were planned to admit in Brics. It was the time when trade ministers of G20 countries were discussing on various trades and investments issues at Jaipur, India. And after a couple of weeks later, global leaders of G20 nations attended the conference at New Delhi to discuss on political, economic, social, environmental and other issues. All these events created a set ground to narrate the success story of Indian space industry and this phenomenon opens the space industry for India in many folds, and when this sector will open in many folds then career opportunities would obviously come in many levels too.

Outer Space Treaty came into force in 1967 and as of August 2023, 114 countries are parties. Which is overseen by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. This is clear that outer space should be considered as a province for all mankind, is free for exploration and that the moon and other celestial bodies cannot be claimed by any nation. Moreover, these are to be used purely for peaceful purposes only.

The moon is in our poems and songs and will be there always as it is. But the picture of what we have been seeing since our childhood days may change. The advertisement campaign related to a child’s future now may portray more in space-oriented career by dressing up astronautical dress. Now to fulfill dreams to become a scientist or connect with space missions would be easier than earlier. Glittery objects in the sky will make us curious, and this curiosity will lead us to do more explorations of our space and this will open new and new doors of opportunities.

Globally space industry is growing with rocket speed. The industry is mushrooming in India too. We cannot afford to lose the opportunity and that to when we are much capable to come in the front row. We believe it or not, but the matter of fact is, we are in the race and we have to be. We can say that India is moving towards a new orbit.

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