India’s space programme seems to be stuck in a rut.
India has three broad tracks in it’s space programme – satellites and launch vehicles programme for remote sensing, communications and navigation, planetary exploration and human spaceflight. We are trying to outsource the first to a private industry that is not prepared to handle the responsibility yet. The second is moving in slow motion. The third seems to be pushing really hard to achieve the unachievable. In the recently held, Global Space Exploration Conference 2021, Chairman, ISRO had this to say:
This is a statement that the media in India has run several times. Hence, his statement did not get any media coverage in India. ISRO is going through tough times with the spaceport under lockdown because of the large number of COVID-19 cases.
The United Arab Emirates seems to be having more ambitious planetary exploration plans than India at the moment. They are talking about two lunar missions, they have signed up for the Artemis accords and are planning to send the second astronaut to the ISS soon.
UAE has grown rich on an important natural resource, oil. This resource is limited on Earth. This has helped the nation learn important lessons in importance of natural resources for the development of the country. Hence, they want to be part of the space faring nations who get to decide how space resources are used just like OPEC controls crude oil prices on Earth.
India used to announce plans like this before. Before the Chandrayaan 1 launch, we spoke of landing humans on the Moon by 2020. While factors beyond ISRO’s control delayed the realization of these projects by years, it gave everyone a broad idea of where India was headed. Now, there is just silence in this regard.
Chairman, ISRO in his New Year message had said that the various centers had drawn up decadal plans but so far we have not seen any. When there is no action physically due to valid reasons, this is the right time to think of things. For example, China has been putting out studies about how to get humans to Mars. ISRO has been doing these studies but not publishing them.
The civilian space programme is not secretive. The idea is to use this programme to raise the morale of the workforce, inject excitement for science and commerce in the country and project India’s rising capability in the sector. This communication is an important task that is assigned to Chairman, ISRO.