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  • Writer's pictureMaahik Trivedi

India: An Emerging Leader in Space Exploration

India's launch of GSLV Mk III D2

With its historic launch of missions aimed at studying the sun and moon, India has emerged as a major player in international conversations on space exploration (Indian Space Research Organization, Wikimedia Commons)

India’s space program, led by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), has seen significant growth in recent years, as shown by its many accomplishments. For example, India successfully sent an orbiter to Mars and became the first Asian country to reach Mars’ orbit. In addition, India landed a rover near the Moon’s south pole, making it the first nation to achieve a soft landing in that region.

The History of India’s Space Program

India’s space research started in the 1920s, with notable contributions from scientists like S. K. Mitra, C.V. Raman, and Meghnad Saha. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was later established in 1969, institutionalizing space research activities in India. ISRO operates under the Department of Space and has several centers across the country.

India’s space program was met with many early accomplishments. In 1975, India launched its first satellite, Aryabhata. In 1980, the Satellite Launch Vehicle-3 (SLV-3) successfully launched the Rohini satellite, making India the sixth nation to possess satellite launch capabilities. India also developed the Indian National Satellite (INSAT) system, sending satellites like INSAT-1B, INSAT-1C, and INSAT-1D into orbit in the 1980s and 1990s. These satellites have provided communication, weather, and disaster warning services.

India has also made global contributions, specifically with the confirmation of water presence on the Moon during the launch of the Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008. In 2014, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) successfully entered Mars’ orbit, making India the first nation to reach Mars on its first attempt.

Chandrayaan-3 Significance

Chandrayaan-3, India’s third mission in the Chandrayaan program, was launched on July 14, 2023, from the Second Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. The spacecraft entered lunar orbit on August 5 and successfully landed on the lunar south pole on August 23.

This mission was significant for several reasons, the first being that this was the first mission to land successfully on the south pole of the moon. This unexplored region provides new opportunities to study lunar geology and potentially new lunar resources. The successful landing also highlights a unique advantage over other space programs and reaffirms India’s significance in space exploration.

Differences in Budgets

India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar mission had a budget of just $75 million, which shows its cost-efficiency when compared to Hollywood movies like Interstellar, which cost $165 million. In 2022, India’s total space budget was $1.93 billion, ranking seventh globally. Comparatively, the United States, with the highest space expenditure globally, spent almost $62 billion on its space programs in the same year. NASA’s annual budget in 2022 alone was $24 billion, highlighting the significant gap between India and major space agencies, although India’s successful space attempts have demonstrated a comparatively high yield.

Recent Aditya-L1 Mission Success

On January 6, 2024, India’s Aditya-L1 mission hit a significant milestone as the spacecraft was successfully placed in its final orbit around the Lagrange point L1. Launched on September 2, 2023, Aditya-L1 is India’s first solar mission, aimed at studying the Sun’s photosphere, chromosphere, and corona. The spacecraft’s final orbit at L1, approximately 1.5 million km from Earth, will help provide an unobstructed view of the Sun, allowing for continuous observations.

The mission has a planned operational life of over 5 years, carrying seven payloads, including a coronagraph, solar ultraviolet imager, and X-ray spectrometers. These instruments will help capture data on solar radiation, flares, magnetic fields, solar wind, the Sun’s atmosphere, and other solar activity. Aditya-L1’s success has marked India’s entry into studying the Sun and may help further space weather prediction and understanding of the Sun-Earth connection.

Forecast for the Future

In recent years, India has accomplished many feats. From working from a budget less than half of Interstellar’s and a fraction of NASA’s to reaching the lunar south pole, India has shown great potential. This is further showcased by the Aditya-L1 placement in the final orbit around the Lagrange point L1. India plans to launch its first manned space mission, Gaganyaan, later this year as well as their first Venus exploration mission, Shukrayaan-1, both projects that will further India’s position on the international space stage.


Sources & Further Reading

Sources & Further Reading

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