Last month saw the launch of 3 different missions from 3 nations to the Red planet - China’s Tianwen-1, USA’s Mars 2020, and UAE’s Hope. Last year too we saw a similar figure being launched towards the Moon – China’s Chang’e 4, Israel’s Beresheet, and India’s Chandrayaan-2. This rate of launch to the Moon and Mars is something that we haven’t seen since the space race of the 1960s and 1970s.
Along with this, we are now really starting to see the competition between private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origins and Boeing heat up, as they seek to bag as many NASA contracts as they can.
All of this begs the question - Are we in the midst of a new space race?
From left to right - Mars 2020 mission, Chandrayaan-2, and Chang'e 4
NEW SPACE RACE
It is important to note that this space race is being termed as “new” for a reason.
China plans to further liberalise and privatise its traditionally government-controlled space sector too. Chinese startups like LinkSpace and i-Space are already starting to garner significant international attention for their successful test flights. has an $8 billion annual space budget and it is set to dramatically increase in the future as its ambitious plans for the Moon and Mars start materialising. It already has a full-fledged moon exploration program and plans to send its astronauts to the Moon's south pole and establish a permanent base there in the 2030s. Its Mars exploration program came to light with the recent launch of Tianwen-1. It plans to complete its own large modular space station sometime in the mid-2020s, directly rivalling the supremacy of the International Space Station (ISS).
A timeline of recent major achievements by the CNSA
The Chandrayaan 3 mission of India, if successful, will make the country the first in the world to land on the south pole of the moon and fourth overall. Also it is pursuing the Gaganyaan mission, which plans to send the first Indian astronauts into space aboard an indigenous spacecraft. If successful, it will make the country only the fourth in the world to achieve this capability.
Among its exploration program to the Sun, and other planets like Venus, it has a Mars exploration program as well, with Mangalyaan-2 set to launch in 2024, Privatisation is on the cards as well. Plans to expand ISRO’s commercial wings like the Antrix Corp. are being materialised, which will allow the space agency to launch even more satellites from international customers and stimulate the growth of its space startups.
Timeline of recent major achievements by the ISRO
Geopolitics of China and India's space race
The battle between these two big rising economies of the world will also be a defining aspect of the 21st-century space race. There’s a lot of geopolitics at play between the two Asian giants too.
Why must private companies venture out?
Collaboration with their respective governments in national programs is one thing, but what really drives billionaires like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson and countless other private companies to pursue their independent ambitions and compete fiercely with each other?
1/ Satellite Launches
2/ The SpaceX Revolution
3/ Other emerging technologies
A 16 Psyche, part of the asteroid belt sandwiched between Mars and Jupiter that can be used for astroid mining.
— Name, Title
Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, more than a decade ago, articulated the concept of an Earth-Moon-Mars industrial complex.
Musk & Mars
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is the foremost organization when it comes to seriously pursuing colonization of Mars.