India upends lunar geopolitics; China snarls

Special to, October 25, 2023


By Richard Fisher

There are now three countries with announced ambitions to place their people on the Moon; in addition to the United States (late 2025) and China (by 2029), on Oct. 17 Indian Prime Minister Nahendra Modi announced India’s intention to place Indians on the Moon by 2040.

On Oct. 17 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India should have its first space station by 2035 and that it should send Indians to the Moon by 2040.

An Oct. 17 Indian government press release stated that the “Prime Minister directed that India should now aim for new and ambitious goals, including setting up ‘Bharatiya Antariksha Station’ (Indian Space Station) by 2035 and sending first Indian to the Moon by 2040.”

The press release further noted, “To realize this Vision, the Department of Space will develop a roadmap for Moon exploration. This will encompass a series of Chandrayaan [unmanned moon probe] missions, the development of a Next Generation Launch Vehicle (NGLV), construction of a new launch pad, setting up human-centric Laboratories and associated technologies.”

But since the mid-to-late-2000s India has been studying a manned Moon mission.

In July 2019 there was a release of slides from a late 2000s briefing indicating that India was initially considering a two-space launch vehicle (SLV) architecture for its initial Moon missions.

One SLV would launch a Moon Landing Vehicle with an Earth orbit departure stage, that would dock with a separately launched manned capsule on the way to the Moon before the Moon lander would descend to the Moon.

On Oct. 21 India took a significant step toward its initial manned space mission when its launched the TV D1 mission of its Gagayaan program, which successfully tested the emergency escape booster and manned capsule shroud.

Gagayaan may make its first manned test flight in 2025.

The Gagayaan manned capsule program and the future Indian space station apparently benefit from space technology cooperation with Russia, which could also provide technology to assist India’s Moon lander program.

But the major difference from Russia and China that India brings to the Moon is that this past June 21 it became the 27th country to join the U.S.-led Artemis Accords, which affirm rules for peaceful and transparent behavior on the Moon consistent with the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty.

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