Space race: India is not always behind China

Unlike China, which sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, India is yet to conduct its first human space flight.

Published: 29th July 2017 12:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th July 2017 12:13 AM   |  A+A-

India's GSLV Mk III being launched from the Satish Dawan Space Center. | PTI

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, G. Madhavan Nair, in an interview to IANS said, he hopes for an India-China collaboration in space exploration. 

His comment comes after India's launch of 104 satellites on a single mission in February impressed China, which acknowledged that New Delhi's success offers a lesson for it. 

Today, there is a talk of a space race between India and China. “Forget the US versus Russia. The real space race is taking place in Asia,” CNN columnist Katie Hunt recently wrote. But can India’s “frugal innovation” in space technology help it catch up with China’s rapidly advancing space programme, which has taken the country to the verge of putting a man on the moon?

Although India’s record-breaking launch of 104 satellites, using a single rocket, earned it international laurels and catapulted it to the forefront of the global space race, yet when compared to its northern neighbour, India has a lot to catch up with.

However, catching up is happening at a rapid pace. 

Unlike China, which sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, India is yet to conduct its first human space flight. However, efforts -- although fraught with funding deficiencies -- are underway at the ISRO to make this happen in the not so distant future.  

A manned space mission requires a higher payload capability. After the successful launch of GSLV Mk III -- the first rocket to be powered by an indigenous cryogenic engine and capable of lifting a payload of 4,000 kg -- ISRO is in the process of beefing up the missile further so as to ready it for human space flight. 

Catching up with China? We’re already ahead in some areas

For China, the real punch came when India successfully launched Mangalyaan, a Mars orbiter in November 2013. China’s attempts to do the same had failed in 2011, due to technical failure. It is now planning to launch another one in 2020, but nine years after India did the same.

Following the Manglayan success, China was one of the first countries to congratulate India. “Actually, Chinese people have myriad reasons to feel delighted at the success of the Mangalyaan probe alongside Indian people. If a country that is relatively backward in scientific research is able to send a probe to Mars, it is highly possible that Yinghuo-2 may succeed in the future,” observed an editorial in the Chinese state-owned tabloid, Global Times

China also learned another lesson from India’s Mars Orbiter mission: things need not be so expensive. Mangalyan was put onto the Martian orbit at a cost of $74 million, making it the cheapest Mars mission ever. India’s Mars mission soon drew an unlikely comparison; with that of George Clooney starer Hollywood blockbuster Gravity -- which was churned out at a cost of 130 million. 

If India’s Mars mission made China jealous, then India’s record launch of 104 satellites into earth’s orbit on a single mission in February 2017 may have been harder to swallow. India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle C37 carried 104 satellites belonging to six countries, including the United States.  

The Chinese media was quick to acknowledge the need to learn from India. 
“India’s successful launch of 104 satellites into orbit could serve as a wake-up call for China’s commercial space industry and there are a number of lessons for the country to learn,” an editorial in Global Times said. 

Then, in a dire tone, it warned, “competition with India for commercial space launches may be inevitable,” and called on the China National Space Administration, China’s premier space agency, to find ways to cut cost. 

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