India began carrying out space research immediately after gaining full independence from British rule in 1947, and became the seventh country in the world to launch its own satellite – Aryabhata – in 1980, which was launched into orbit with the help of a Soviet space launch vehicle, Kosmos-3M.
However, it is worth pointing out that there were already rockets in India a few hundred years ago, which “arrived” there from China. The first recorded use of rocket artillery dates back to the 1792 Siege of Seringapatam, when rocketeers under the command of Tipu Sultan fired rockets at British troops. The Indian war rockets, known as Mysorean rockets, were iron pipes tied to bamboo guide poles. When fired, the rockets had a flight range of about a kilometer.
The first rockets to “land” in Europe had made their way there through India.
Today, India is cooperating with Russia in a productive partnership through a joint venture between the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) of India and the Federal State Unitary Enterprise NPO Mashinostroyenia (NPOM), and is already beginning to produce a new version of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile with an increased flight range of up to 500 kilometers.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched the Chandrayan-2 (Sanskrit for “Moon Ship”) on July 22, a lunar exploration mission with a lunar rover on board, which has firmly consolidated India’s status as a spacefaring nation. The objective of the mission is to study lunar soil, to search for water and minerals, as well as topography mapping to track tremors under the surface of the astronomical body. The Indian spacecraft will be the first to land on the Moon’s unexplored south pole, which we know very little about.
The Chandrayan-2 has an indirect trajectory and needs to perform complicated maneuvers, and then there is the fully automatic landing of the lunar rover and work to be carried out on the Moon’s surface, which is all proof of the great progress Indian space research is making: these are feats which can only be achieved by a handful of countries that currently have a well-funded and highly advanced national space industry. It is also worth noting that in February 2019, India was able to put together its first group of astronauts for Gaganyaan, an Indian crewed orbital spacecraft intended to be the basis of the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme, which should allow the country to join the list of countries engaged in manned space flights.
Despite the fact that the ISRO has a budget which is several times smaller than the cost of space programs in China and Japan, the Indian space agency is running an independent, technically advanced space program. India is now one of the few countries to have mastered the technology of a cryogenic rocket engine. It had accomplished some landmark projects, which include sending research probes to the Moon and Mars, and has begun to deploy the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS).
In April, India conducted a successful missile test on its own anti-satellite weapons, shooting down a satellite in low-earth orbit. In an address to the nation, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the event historic, noting that only three other countries — the US, Russia and China — had been able to make this achievement. Prime Minister Modi stressed however that the mission is not directed against any particular country and does not breach international conventions or treaties.
In May, the ISRO reported the successful launch of its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C46) with the latest RISAT-2B radar imaging reconnaissance satellite, which is capable of monitoring the Earth’s surface at any time of the day or night, even through thick layers of cloud, and can rapidly obtain information for all-weather surveillance with the whereabouts and movements of terrorists. It can also be used for agricultural purposes or to monitor natural disasters.
India and Russia have a long successful history of working together in the field of space research. Over the past 20 years alone, the two countries have signed a number of important agreements on cooperation in the fields of peaceful space activity, joint space science programs and satellite navigation. Thus, India’s growing scientific and technical potential, the stability of bilateral relations between India and Russia, as well as their experience of working together in close cooperation in the most sensitive areas (e.g., satellite navigation and the joint development of cruise missiles) build a long-term framework for the two countries to grow their partnership in this area and take it to the next level. India is interested in cooperating with Russia in areas including manned space exploration, engine building, and satellite navigation. Much of the focus is on implementing India’s national manned space program, Gaganyaan, which aims to launch India’s first crewed flight in 2022, by the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. In order to achieve this goal, training has already got underway at Russia’s Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center. The possibility and feasible reality of sending Indian astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) is being studied, and the possibility is even being considered for the Russian side to create a separate module at the ISS in the interests of their Indian partners.
The Indian leadership has set itself the goal of building a modern space industry, and intends to considerably increase India’s space infrastructure over the next few years, which would require a significant increase in funds allocated to the space program and the pace of launches would need to be accelerated. In order to complete these tasks, the ISRO plans to attract a wider spectrum of public and private companies in India and get them involved in developing and producing space technology, and also plans to intensify cooperation with foreign partners. For instance, the quotas for foreign capital investment in the military and strategic sectors have already been increased from 26% to 49%. New opportunities are also opening up to develop cooperation between industries in Russia and India within the framework of the “Make In India” initiative, one of whose priority areas is space technology.
The two countries’ cooperation in space will be an essential item on the agenda for the bilateral summit scheduled for the beginning of September in Vladivostok in conjunction with the Eastern Economic Forum.
Valery Kulikov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine ‘New Eastern Outlook’.