Friday, May 24, 2024

Indian Space Sector: Scaling New Heights

Kamal Shah

India’s space race got a double boost this week with the successful launch of the Vikram S, the first-ever indigenous private rocket built by two former IIT grads. This remarkable effort, started in just 2018, was the key to opening the doors to the inauguration of the first private launch pad at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. 

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman Somanath did the honours in declaring the pad functional on behalf of the Agnikul Cosmos, a veritable start-up that has literally unlocked the gates to space for the private sector.

But let’s back up a bit. The Vikram S is the story that dreams are made of and seldom see reality. Two former IIT whizzkids, Pawan Chandana and Bharat Daka having worked in ISRO for several years, decided to eschew lucrative offers abroad and set up Skyroot to ostensibly manufacture spacecraft and put India on an ambitious trajectory in both civil and military terms. Their plans were injected with tangible hope when Prime Minister Modi in 2020 reworked India’s space roadmap and loosened ISRO’s stranglehold on space activities. Suddenly, even though, in all fairness, ISRO had strung several successes of its own and shown merit, the private sector had been left out in the cold.

The Modi reforms allowed the private sector to get in on the stage and invest in the space odyssey at every level. The depth of funding needed to raise the bar could now be plumbed.

After all, space is the next destination, and any nation that needs to be counted must have its finger in this pie.

Vikram S flew straight and true and set the nation on this new course. Reaching a height of nearly 90km into orbit, it fell back according to plan and splashed into the Bay of Bengal with acceptable precision. 

So sending rockets up into space is great optics, but what does it all mean? For one, it gives ISRO partnership options with private sector enterprises to make more giant steps in space exploration. We are also then on the cutting edge of telemetry, communications, and surveillance, engage in fluid dynamics and learn more about what makes the galaxy tick.

Even as global warming raises its spectral head, we do enable a head start on weather patterns from outer space.

In brief: Satellites that circle the globe provide the most accurate weather reports and warn us of impending storms; they monitor our climate every day, helping to track increasing rates of climate change and its effects, such as rising seas and changing moisture levels, wildfires and atmospheric changes. So we can keep an eye on the caprice of Nature and the foibles of humans.

Tracking wildlife and their migrations is another must because they have equal rights on this planet.

A nascent but valid premise connected to space is the search for new cures as research in treatments is conducted in space.

Improved GPS and other movements are another positive fallout. While this might sound like a bad B movie plot, an eye in the sky tracks meteors, asteroids, and comets and forewarns if they are orbiting too close to the earth.

Even as we have gouged the earth of essential precious materials and minerals, the supply of previous metals in the Cosmos is mandated. We need to prospect in space. By that token, establishing residence in space in ever-enlarging stations is a precursor to one day having communities living in space colonies. We are already 8 billion and in 30 years could be 11 billion…ironically run out of space to go to space.

Finally, a presence in space is a major military deterrent and shores up our defence security parameters. We can watch the enemy and pre-empt attacks. Weaponry positioned in space is a scenario not too far away.

India is on the way up, and when history is written, it will say November 2022 was the beginning of the nation’s private sector saga in space.


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