The New Space Race
Text Namrata Goswami China and India vie for supremacy in the region’s space exploration programmes – from the Moon to Mars
analysing the space policies of lead Asian players like China and India, it becomes clear that both nations are increasingly focusing their efforts on a “space race” – or, more accurately, something of a “gold rush” in space. While these countries certainly have a long list of objectives they want to accomplish in space, there is no clear finish line, neither is there a definitive time frame.
Their approach contrasts starkly with the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the former Soviet Union, where getting there first mattered most. As a result, when the USSR’S Sputnik 1 burst into the skies in 1957, there was a lot of handwringing at NASA. Yuri Gagarin’s tryst with space destiny was a heartbreaker for the US space programme, which subsequently spurred the race to the Moon and the Apollo programme.
In comparison, the race for space among the Asian exploration programmes is not about simply beating the competition to the finish line. The long-term goals set by these nations are not focused on who plants their flag first. They are more focused on space activity – accomplished on as lean a budget as possible. India took great pride in successfully launching their Mars orbiter, Mangalyaan, in 2013 with a meagre overhead cost of USD70 million, compared to the USD671 million spent by the US on launching their Mars orbiter, Maven.
The low cost of India’s Mars orbiter could potentially draw in lucrative customers to its space programme, particularly noteworthy in a newly competitive environment that has seen the entry of private commercial actors like Space X, Moon
According to the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), “power coming from outside of the Earth, such as solar power, and the development of other space energy resources, is to be China’s future direction”.
By 2018, China aims to launch the Chang’e-4 lunar probe to achieve a soft landing on the far side of the moon, in order to carry out topographic and geological surveys of lunar samples. In its 2016 white paper on space exploration, China stated that space exploration would “promote strong and sustained economic and social development”. By 2020, China aims to send a Mars orbiter to bring back samples for research, and also intends to conduct asteroid exploration. By 2036, China intends to send a manned mission to the Moon.
In a 2016 interview with Reuters, Lieutenant General Zhang Yulin, deputy commander of the China space programme, stated that China must “raise its abilities and use the next 15 to 20 years to realise manned lunar exploration goals, and take a firm step for the Chinese people in breaking ground in the utilisation of space”.
There is a push to encourage private space start-ups, like Onespace and Landspace, which goes to show that the Chinese government views its space activities as highly beneficial to long-term economic investment. In 2016, China overtook Russia with its 22 rocket launches, equalling the record number of launches by the US. China’s space programme fits well within its need to demonstrate prestige and great power status, while also paying economic dividends in the long run.
In 2016, China overtook Russia with its 22 rocket launches, equalling the record number of launches by the US
Manned Lunar Mission and Mission to Mars Chang’e4: Mission to far side of Moon
Shenzhou 11: Manned Mission to Tiangong-2 Dongneng- 3 exoatmospheric vehicle test ASAT Test Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) first operational launch Shenzhou I: China’s first unmanned spacecraft First Mission to Venus 2020– 21 Second Mars Mission
The Space race