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

Asian Geographic - - Nature - 2036 2015 2007 2003 1999 2021 2018 2017

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

China’s first cargo space­craft, Tianzhou 1, was suc­cess­fully launched in Wen­chang, China, in April 2017

Above left An artist’s im­pres­sion of a SBSP satel­lite, lo­cated some 58,000 kilo­me­tres above the Earth’s sur­face above Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) Air Force fighter pi­lot Liu Yang (left) with her two male col­leagues, Jing Haipeng (right) and Liu

Be­low In­dia’s Mars-bound rocket and satel­lite launched in 2013. The In­dian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion is com­pet­ing with China in the Asian space race right As­tro­nauts train in a low-pres­sure cham­ber at the As­tro­naut Re­search and Train­ing Cen­ter in Bei­jin

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