Space Curiouser

Welcome to my curious world of words….

image credit- <sciencemag.org>

“Space is infinite and so is the quest of human to reach the stars and beyond” In 2012, USA celebrated 50 years of its space program and huge quota of achievements. In October, 2020 it will celebrate 58 years of its establishment and operation. On October 1, 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Administration became operational with an estimated budget of $100 million and 8000 employees in Washington D.C. On October 11, 1958 it launched its first space probe, Pioneer 1.  Since then, NASA biggest contribution to space exploration includes launch of Pioneer 3, first satellite which NASA made in conjunction with US Army Ballistic Missile Agency to fly at an altitude of 63,850 miles, Pioneer 4, first lunar flyby, TIROS 1, first weather satellite placed on earth orbit, John Glenn became first American astronaut to circle the earth in 1962. The most significant and history making moment in humankind came in 1969 with the launch of Apollo 11, a manned spacecraft that carried 3 astronauts on moon surface. In 1971, NASA launched first space mission Mariner 9 to orbit another planet i.e. Mars. In 1975, NASA cooperated with USSR Space Agency to achieve the first human space flight, the Apollo- Soyuz project which successfully tested joint tryst and docking procedures for spacecraft from the two nations. On 12th April, 1981, NASA launched first space shuttle, Columbia to place astronauts in space and carry on various space missions. In 1984, NASA started working on International Space Station (ISS) and in 2000, humans first inhabit ISS.

In terms of research centers, NASA carries out research and technical mission in 10 research centers across USA. Prominent among them are Kennedy Space Centre, Johnson Space Centre and Armstrong Flight Research Centre.

NASA- PRIVATE SECTOR COLLABORATION

US Space Agency in order to expand its capabilities in technology and communication sector like satellites, earth monitoring, navigation and exploration system recognize the role of private sector and how importance it is to collaborate with private space companies to achieve space dominion when other countries are giving tough competition to NASA like European Space Agency, China Space Agency and the already existing Russia Space Agency and to innovate space technologies and machines at low cost and with budget of no constraint while also maintaining control in triple-P (Public-Private Partnership). With these objectives in mind, the then US President Barack Obama  approved and issued the National Space Policy Directives in 2010 to encourage federal departments and agencies to actively explore the use of inventive, non-traditional arrangements to acquire commercial space goods and services to meet US Government requirements including measures such as public-private partnerships, hosting government capabilities on commercial spacecrafts and purchasing scientific and operational data products from commercial satellite operators in support of government missions.[1] This policy helped NASA to fill the void created with the discontinuation of Space Shuttle Program in 2011 due to budget cuts. To maintain and resupply cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), NASA entered into various agreements with more than 10 commercial space companies like Space X, Blue Origin, Boeing to manufacture and install facilities on ISS and to develop space crafts to carry astronauts and space tourist to outer space from 2020 onwards and  to land and carry out research and experiments on other heavenly bodies including planets. This partnership is ever increasing and proving to be profitable to both the sectors. According to a report published by Space Angels, space companies who have invested in government space contracts received fund worth more than billion dollars. For example, Space X in its early years invested heavily in government contracts and received public funding worth $1 Billion. Those companies who have invested in space sector and bought space contracts received funding worth more than $7 Billion.  This shows that US space companies are earning profits not just from their operational and manufacturing activities but also been receiving huge amount of public fund. This also exhibits the potential of space industry as the most sought after industry in the world economy.

According to Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, US Space industry is on its way to become $1 Trillion economy all due to recent and paced developments in field of communication and technology and large chunk of contribution goes to Elon Musk, CEO of Space X, whose company has acquired ambitious contracts related to ISS, moon lander and mining activities, Mars Landing and carrying out research on asteroids all while simultaneously launching more than 300 satellite pool of starlink constellation satellite. The future of US Space Industry is prosperous, one that is full of adventure and infinite history making moments. As space nerd, it’s the exciting time to witness these moment.

INDIA’S SPACE PROGRAM

India’s space program started with the establishment of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 1969. Like NASA, ISRO too operates through a network of centers. For example, payloads and sensors are developed at Space Application Centre in Ahmedabad. Satellites are designed, developed, assembled and tested at ISRO Satellite Centre in Bangalore and launched takes place at Vikram Sarabhai Centre.[2] Since its time of operation till now, ISRO has become one of world’s top 5 space agency in terms of number of satellites launched, space missions etc. Some of the achievements of ISRO include its launch of first satellite, Aryabhata in 1975 by the then Soviet Union. The first satellite to be launched on indigenous launch vehicle was Rohini in 1980, space lunar missions like Chandrayaan-1 in 2008 and Chandrayaan-2 in 2019 Mars Mission like Mars Orbitor Mission in 2013.in 2019 it became the fourth nation to have Anti-Satellite weapon system to shot down junk satellite placed in lower earth orbit. It plans to launch astronaut in 2022 with the launch of Gaganyaan Mission

Until last year, ISRO solely was responsible for satellite design and launch making. With the aim to lessen the burden of ISRO and encourage private participation in Indian space industry, the Indian Space Research Organisation’s commercial wing NewSpace India Ltd. (NSIL) invited tenders from space companies to develop five PSLV’s. NSIL received payload slot on the first commercial launch of ISRO’s new rocket- Small Satellite Launch Vehicle from US Space Company, Spaceflight. Nationwise collaboration, ISRO and US has already started working on Satellite Navigation (SatNav). The US Congress has decided to designate the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS).[3]

In the past three years, ISRO is doing commendable work not only in field of space engineering and technology but also encouraging local space startup to come forward with ideas that can lower cost of satellite and space mission launch while also expanding the horizon for Indian Space System to prove itself as tough competitor in space race. If India follows NASA model of development, expansion and triple-P model consistently, there is no doubt that it will be a formidable space power. We have a top leader that is really making sure to make space sector as the topmost developed and profitable sector of economy, all India needs now is more private participation with ISRO and more Indian space startups.  Right now, the world is going through pandemic situation, much worse than two world war and it has hit every nation’s space program in terms of delay in satellite and outer space mission launch. But here lies opportunity for Indian space industry and that is more collaboration between ISRO and Indian space companies in coming months. There are so many advantages to it. First, increase in future space missions. Second, low cost benefit to Indian government agency in manufacturing space instruments and components. Third, technology collaboration will be beneficial in long run. NASA is perfect example of triple-P program and it is achieving new heights as a result of it. Its time for ISRO to follow the same.

UPDATE– On 16th May, 2020 India’s Honourable Finance Minister Mrs. N. Sitaraman announced that private sector’s participation in space activities will be encouraged and “That India’s private sector will be co-traveller in India’s space sector journey” The government will provide level playing level for private companies in satellite, launches and space based activities. It will also provide predictible policy and regulatory environment to private players. Private sector will be allowed to use ISRO reources to improve their capacities.

This is bold and concrete step toward triple-P from government which is surely going to make India’s space sector one of the most profitable and competitive industry in the following years. It’s time to make India’s own Space X


[1] <https://www.space.commerce.gov/policy/national-space-policy/>

[2]< https://www.britannica.com/topic/Indian-Space-Research-Organisation>

[3] <https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/science/isros-space-station-and-human-mission-programme-us-companies-keen-on-space-collaboration-with-india/1863246/>

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