‘India and China – A new space race ?’ was the title of the Presentation given by Mr Gurbir Singh at the April meeting of Keighley Astronomical society,
Mr Singh described how the first tentative steps towards a space programme started in the early 1960s in both countries and initially developed at a similar pace. Today China is way ahead of India when it comes to capability in launch vehicles, the frequency of launches, the numbers of spacecraft in orbit, lunar exploration and human spaceflight.
Both nations now have a mature space programme that underpins their respective economies, national security and the sense of presence on the international stage.
China’s first manned spacecraft entered orbit in October 2003, making China the first Asian nation to send a human into space. India expects to send Vayunauts to space in the Gaganyaan capsule by 2022.
While the achievements of space programs run by the main Asian space players (China, India, and Japan) pale in comparison to the milestones set by the former Soviet Union and the United States, Mr Singh stated Asia may soon lead the world in space exploration. China has been the leader of Asia’s space race since the beginning of the 21st century. That first Chinese manned spaceflight, marked the beginning of a space race in the region. At the same time, the existence of a space race in Asia is still debated due to the non-concurrence of space milestone events like there was for the United States and the Soviet Union.
Japan for example was the first power on Earth to get a sample return mission from an asteroid. There was however some concurrence between China and India to see which of those two could be the first to launch a probe to the Earth’s moon back in the late 2000s decade.
China, for example, denies that there is an Asian space race. In January 2007 China became the first Asian military-space power to send an anti-satellite missile into orbit, to destroy an aging Chinese Feng Yun 1C weather satellite in polar orbit. The resulting explosion sent a wave of debris hurtling through space at more than 6 miles per second.
After successful achievement of geostationary technology, India’s ISRO launched its first Moon mission, Chandrayaan-1 in October 2008, which discovered ice water on the Moon. India then launched on 5th November 2013 its maiden interplanetary mission, the Mars Orbiter Mission. The primary objective is to determine Mars’ atmospheric composition and attempt to detect methane. The spacecraft completed its journey on 24th September 2014 when it entered its intended orbit around Mars, making India the first Asian country to successfully place a Mars orbiter and the only country in history to do so in the first attempt. ISRO became the fourth space agency in the world to send a spacecraft to Mars, only behind NASA, ROSCOSMOS, and ESA.India carried out its Anti-satellite testing named ‘Mission Shakti’ in March 2019,thus making it fourth nation in the world to do so and have such missile technology.
In addition to increasing national pride, countries are commercially motivated to operate in space. Commercial satellites are launched for communications, weather forecasting, and atmospheric research explained Mr Singh. According to a report by the Space Frontier Foundation released in 2006, the “space economy” is estimated to be worth about $180 billion, with more than 60% of space-related economic activity coming from commercial goods and services. China and India propose the initiation of a commercial launch service.
China has a space program with an independent human spaceflight capability. It has developed a sizable family of successful Long March rockets. It has launched two lunar orbiters, Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2. On 2nd December 2013, China launched a modified Long March 3B rocket, with Chang’e 3 Moon lander and its rover Yutu on-board toward the Moon and successfully performed soft landing and rover operations, becoming the third country to do so. It also has plans to retrieve samples by late 2017.
In 2011, China embarked on a program to establish a manned space station, starting with the launch of Tiangong 1 and followed by Tiangong 2 in 2016. China attempted to send a Mars orbiter (Yinghuo-1) in 2011 on a joint mission with Russia, which failed to leave Earth orbit. Nevertheless, the 2020 Chinese Mars Mission with an orbiter, a lander and a rover has been approved by the government and is aiming a launch date in the year 2020. China has collaborative projects with Russia, ESA, and Brazil, and has launched commercial satellites for other countries. Some analysts suggest that the Chinese space program is linked to the nation’s efforts at developing advanced military technology.
China’s advanced technology is the result of the integration of various related technological experiences. Early Chinese satellites, such as the FSW series, have undergone many atmospheric re-entry tests. In the 1990s China had commercial launches, resulting in more launch experiences and a high success rate after the 1990s. China has aimed to undertake scientific development in fields like Solar System exploration.
China’s Shenzhou 7 spacecraft successfully performed an EVA in September 2008. China’s Shenzhou 9 spacecraft successfully performed a manned docking in June 2012. Furthermore, China’s Chang’e 2 explorer became the first object to reach Sun-Earth Lagrangian point in August 2011 and also the first probe to explore both Moon and asteroid by making a flyby of the asteroid 4179 Toutatis.
China has launched DAMPE, the most capable dark matter explorer to date in 2015, and world’s first quantum communication satellite QUESS in 2016.
India’s interest in space travel began in the early 1960s, when scientists launched a Nike-Apache rocket from TERLS, in Kerala ( southern India) Under Vikram Sarabhai, the program focused on the practical uses of space in increasing the standard of living. Remote sensing and communications satellites were placed into orbit.
The first Indian to travel in space was Rakesh Sharma, who flew aboard Soyuz T-11, launched April 2, 1984, from erstwhile USSR.
Just a few days after China said that it would send a human into orbit in the second half of 2003, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee publicly urged his country’s scientists to work towards sending a man to the Moon. It successfully sent its probe to the Moon in October 2008 and is planning its second Moon mission, Chandrayaan-2 for later this year.
ISRO launched its Mars Orbiter Mission on 5th November 2013 (informally called “Mangalyaan”) which successfully entered into the orbit around Mars on 24th September 2014. India is the first in Asia and fourth in the world to perform a successful Mars mission. It is also the only one to do so on the first attempt and at a record low cost of $74 million.
ISRO has demonstrated its re-entry technology and to date has launched as many as 175 foreign satellites belonging to global customers from 20 countries including US, Germany, France, Japan, Canada, U.K. All of these have been launched successfully by PSLVs so far, gaining significant expertise in space technologies. In June 2016, India set a record by launching 20 satellites simultaneously. The PSLVs are also one of world’s most reliable launch vehicles which clocked its 35th successful mission (39 total) in a row as of February 2017, thus having success rate of nearly 90%.
India broke the world record by successfully placing 104 satellites (almost tripling the Russian record of 37) in Earth Orbit on 15 February 2017 on a single rocket launch (PSLV-C37).
Recent reports indicate that human spaceflight is planned with a spacecraft called Gaganyaan for December 2021 on a home-grown GSLV-III rocket. Mr Singh concluded by stating the furture aim of India is to send orbiters to Venus, Mars and Jupiter or comets and asteroids.