How Chandrayaan-2, Gaganyaan may open new vistas for ISRO?
New Delhi, July 24: Space exploration as a commercial industry has seen rapid growth in the last few years. Space missions were once upon a time carried out only by government-backed agencies, but now a lot of private players have ventured in and that has brought investments in this domain.
The US and USSR, in the 60s and 70s, launched space missions to show their technical capabilities and also as part of cold war strategy to assert their dominance in the world. Many space programs started as military projects, like the star wars and the surveillance satellites. The technologies developed then were mainly to intimidate the other and instill fear which served as deterrents.
Now, the entire scene has changed. With the rise of companies like Space-X, avenues like space tourism are being explored. In 2007, the Google Lunar XPrize was launched which offered a USD 20 million prize to any team from around the world that landed a rover on the Moon without significant government support.
Recently, SpaceIL, a tech team from Israel, attempted to land their rover on the moon's surface, but the effort failed to acheive its target due to a component failure. But still, it became the first private entity to enter the lunar orbit and was recognised by XPRIZE for the feat.
So, this entire space business is becoming lucrative and there's a lot of money to be made in the future. ISRO is aware of this and wouldn't want to be left behind. ISRO already has a commercial arm ANTRIX which deals with launching satellites for other countries/entities for a price.
At present, Arianespace dominates the satellite launch market. Arianespace is a giant in this field and has a range of launch vehicles to orbit heaviest of the satellites in both LEO and GEO.
ISRO's PSLV has a good track record of launching small satellites, and India now has a medium-lift launch vehicle GSLV Mk-3 which can carry 4 ton class of satellites into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) or about 10 tons to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
ISRO has demonstrated commendable capabilities in launching small-medium weight satellites into the orbit. It is now time to go to the next level. Chandrayaan-2 and Gaganyaan would give ISRO a much-required impetus in the highly competitive satellite launch market which is expanding into a multi-billion industry. Since costs involved are high, any investor would look at the track record and ability to develop complex technologies.
Successfully executing Chandrayaan-2 and Gaganyaan, India's first human space-flight program, is likely to open new avenues for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). For one, there would be a paradigm shift in the way the world looks at ISRO's capabilities in terms of space exploration and the ability to put satellites in orbits.
Chandrayaan-2, if executed perfectly, will establish India's capability to safely land on the moon and operate a rover on the lunar surface for the first time. The next step Gaganyaan. If ISRO executes Gaganyaan perfectly, then there would be a paradigm shift in the way world looks at India's capabilities in terms of space exploration. The success of Gaganyaan can prove India's ability to develop complex technologies and would establish ISRO as a major space power.
Having a range of launch vehicles capable of orbiting wide variety of satellites is one thing, but gaining the trust of international customers who have for decades relied on European and American companies for launches is another. It is in this respect that Chandrayaan-2 and Gaganyaan would help. It would help ISRO to emerge as a trustable brand in the field of space technology.
Space tourism and ISRO:
Despite a lot of buzz and excitement surrounding Space Tourism, the fact remains that it is something which is out of reach of the general public. The costs may come down in years to come, but it is highly unlikely that a regular shuttle kind of service to space would start anytime soon. Hopping on to a futuristic space vehicle for a quick to-and-fro trip to the moon is, as of now, confined to Sci-fi stories and is likely to remain so for at least next 2-3 decades.
Success of Chandrayaan-2 and Gaganyaan may encourage ISRO to dive into lucrative business of 'Space Tourism'. Given that only seven people have actually gone into space as tourists so far, the idea of ISRO entering into this aspect of outer space activities may seem far fetched, but here is what ISRO chief said in October 2018. ISRO chairman K Sivan on October 11 said that India needs to explore space tourism. "We are creating capacity for it so that we do not lag behind," Sivan said when asked about space tourism.
If India does enter space tourism, the impact would be huge as an investment in space tourism can generate revenues and employment on a sizeable scale. Space tourism would require personnel for building the spacecraft, to training travelers, to investment and insurance.
All the ISRO missions so far involved sending satellites/orbiters out of the earth's atmosphere. But, when humans are being sent to space, then they have to be brought back, and that is a big technological challenge. In 2011, the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, conducted a pilot study exploring the scope of a space tourism industry in India, which suggests that India could reduce the overall cost of commercial space travel. It states that at present, anyone looking to buy a seat to outer space will have to dish out roughly $200,000 but if India can bring that figure down by a fourth, it will be a competitive player in the market, said a HuffingtonPost report.
With the rise of companies like Space-X and the huge success that ISRO has achieved so far, space tourism may become a real thing in the coming future, but it is hard to predict how much time it may actually take. An industry can only develop when there is a demand for a particular kind of goods or services.