The launch of the Vikram S rocket has been rightly hailed as an important milestone in India’s outer space journey. It is the first privately built Indian rocket to make it to space.
Emergence of private sector in space technology –
- While the “Prarambh” mission of Vikram is a good beginning, India has much distance to travel before it catches up with the rest of the world in private sector participation in space programmes. When space emerged as an important endeavour in the second half of the 20th century, governments were in the lead. The cost, complexity and research-intensity of the space effort meant the space programmes everywhere became a government monopoly.
- But in the 21st century, the role of the private sector has dramatically expanded. Satellites were once owned only by governments but today private companies lead the satellite business.
- Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system is now a major player with more than 2,300 satellites in low earth orbit — they deliver a variety of space services including useful military information to the armed forces of Ukraine in their fight against Russian forces.
- Amazon’s Project Kuiper plans to launch more than 3,000 satellites in the coming years to offer a range of services, including broadband internet.
- Airtel in India is a partner in the OneWeb corporation that offers connectivity through its system of nearly 500 satellites.
International cooperation and competition in space –
- The private sector’s rise has been complemented by growing international cooperation to realise the new commercial possibilities in space. The idea of international cooperation in outer space was indeed codified in the early multilateral treaties.
- But it was the intense geopolitical competition that shaped the space programmes of the major powers during the Cold War. As the military uses of space expanded, the role of the state in the space programmes became even more significant in the second half of the 20th century.
- The US and Soviet space programmes became very important elements of the all-encompassing competition between Washington and Moscow – ideological, political, economic, and military. Both sides engaged in space cooperation with other countries as part of the Cold War strategy of winning friends and influencing nations.
- The Cold War rivals – US and the Soviet Union – had also developed bilateral cooperation in space as a demonstration of their desire for peace. Some of that endured until recently, despite the persistent friction between Washington and Moscow.
India’s space diplomacy –
- India embarked on national space programmes. Delhi’s main objective was to leverage outer space to accelerate national development.
- Eventually, military and commercial dimensions began to envelop the Indian space programme. India’s space programme began with intensive cooperation with the Western countries and later with the Soviet Union.
- Delhi also offered space cooperation to other developing countries within the rubric of engagement with friendly governments.
Future possibilities for India –
As India emerged out of its past technological isolation, four new imperatives have presented themselves.
- One is the growing range of new space possibilities – from using satellites for delivering broadband internet to the mining of the Moon and from space manufacturing to deep space exploration. Put simply, the scale of the global economy is rapidly growing — its value is expected to more than double from about $450 billion in 2022 to nearly one trillion dollars within a decade.
- Second, raising the Indian share of the global space economy can only be done by drawing in the private sector companies to play a larger role. Consider, for example, the large number of private companies involved in the US Artemis project of returning to the Moon — Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, Airbus and Space X.
- Third is the growing weight of international cooperation in national space programmes. If Apollo was a purely national project of the United States, the Artemis programme is a multinational endeavour between the US and its partners, including France, Canada, and Japan. Meanwhile Russia and China are coming together to collaborate not only on their space programmes, but also on building a joint base on the Moon that will establish long term human presence there. Cooperation in space has already emerged as an important theme in the discussions among the Quad partners — Australia, India, Japan, and the United States.
- India has just about embarked on a programme to enhance the contribution of its private sector in outer space. India is also drawing on foreign capital to support its startups. Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, for example, is a major investor in Skyroot Aerospace that launched the Vikram S rocket. Many Western aerospace companies will be eager to invest in India’s space programme as it begins to open up.
Delhi is also coming to terms with the fact that international cooperation is not just an “add-on” to the national space programme, but must be an integral part of India’s space strategy.
Source – The Indian Express
QUESTION – With the success of ‘Mission Prarambh’, India has embarked upon the journey to realise its true potential of capturing the global space market and influence the world with its space diplomacy. Comment.