India is making a play to become a major space power

India is making a play to become a major space power
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India has started to make decisions that will make that country a major space power. The south Asian country is responding to China’s progress in space. It has not only set the date for the launch of its next moon mission; it has also decided that it needs its own independent space station.

First, as India Today reported, the Indian Space Research Organization has announced that the much-delayed Chandrayaan-2 space probe will be launched to the moon on July 15 of this year, 50 years after the day that Apollo 11 launched. The Indian moon probe will take almost two months on a low-energy trajectory before landing at the lunar south pole on Sept. 6 or 7.

The Chandrayaan-2 will consist of an orbiter, a lander and a rover. It will be the first human-made machine to explore the south pole of the moon, which scientists believe contains abundant deposits of ice.

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Second, the ISRO has announced that it would like to build its own space station sometime in the 2020s. It will be a relatively small module, about 20 metric tons, and it would allow Indian astronauts to remain in Earth orbit for up to 20 days while performing experiments. ISRO plans to deploy the Indian space station about five to seven years after the first flight of the Gaganyaan, a crewed orbital spacecraft being developed by the ISRO.

India would also like to join as an international partner with NASA’s planned Artemis program to return to the moon. Currently, the space agency is developing human missions to the moon, with the first in 2024, leading to a lunar base starting in 2028. NASA Administrator Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineA lot has changed since Apollo 11 — how will we experience the next moon landing? The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke MORE has stated that the space agency will need $20 billion to 30 billion over and above its planned budget to land astronauts on the moon in 2024, with a $1.6 billion down payment for the 2020 fiscal year.

India has already accomplished a couple of important space missions. It launched the Chandrayaan-1 in orbit around the moon in October 2008. The lunar probe confirmed the existence of ice at the lunar poles, a discovery with profound implications for future space exploration and colonization. The ISRO also successfully launched the Mangalyaan probe into orbit around Mars. It is planning a larger version in the 2022-23 timeframe.

India is striving to become a major space power for a couple of reasons. First, the country does not wish to be eclipsed by China as Asia’s preeminent space-faring nation. China has a crewed space program and has twice landed on the moon; thus, India has a little catching up to do.

Second, India has recognized that to be a major player on the world stage, it has to have a vigorous space program. The country has been developing a high-tech sector for the past several years as a means of jump-starting its economy. The money being spent on India’s space program has been the source of some controversy, considering the large numbers of Indians who remain in third-world poverty. The issue has some parallels to the one that existed in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s, when some American politicians attacked the Apollo program for spending resources they felt would be better used to alleviate social problems on Earth.

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The Indian government also believes that the larger and more accomplished its space program is, the better positioned it will be to make a better deal as a partner on the Artemis project. NASA seeks both international and commercial partners to send astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972. India would like to see its own astronauts walk on the lunar surface as part of a major partnership with the American space agency, hopefully before the Chinese manage it.

The eagerness of India and a number of other countries to join the Artemis program will constitute a powerful argument for NASA’s Bridenstine to get the funding he needs to affect a crewed moon landing sooner rather than later. By leading a coalition back to the moon, the United States will garner a great deal of political influence on the world stage, something that will translate to more Earthly issues. Forming such partnerships will help maintain the United States as the sole superpower on Earth.

Mark Whittington is the author of space exploration studies “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.”