One of the earliest obsessions that human beings developed is the one they have with the sky. When the skies were darker and miniature computers didn't take up all our time, I imagine there was little else to do.
Having had the opportunity to gleam at some of the darkest skies in America, I can testify to the awe it summons. The time of our ancestors, from when they looked at the stars to find patterns of Gods and Animals, is very different from ours. Recent missions have showcased cutting-edge technology that have systematically helped us chisel our imagination and understanding of the universe. A prime example to make our case in point is NASA’s Juno, which released its first video showing Jupiter's harmonious dance with it's moons, on it’s approach to the planet after a five-year journey.
Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), was quoted saying “The spacecraft worked perfectly, which is always nice when you’re driving a vehicle with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer”. Given the complex nature of aiming for objects several thousand million miles away, for many years, countries around the world have showcased their space agencies as notable scales for their technological prowess. Remember the space race?
Stellar agencies like NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have been our guides to the other worlds for the eternity of the science. However, a new player has emerged out of nowhere, making a case for a competent candidate for the league. A variety of factors including a governmental push and “Make In India” has pushed the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), to quickly join the ranks of well established space agencies. With traditional Indian pragmatism at it’s core, ISRO’s approach has been very well accepted around the world. Making economical and efficient technology is their “mantra” to success.
In an interview with the Economic Times, ISRO chairman Kiran Kumar noted, “To be sure, cost effectiveness and high efficiency have helped the ISRO cut a bigger share in the global space market...We are aiming to build an industrial consortium by 2020. This will enable us to take on a bigger role in the launch market.”
Kumar continued saying, “In 2013, Mangalyaan showed how space technology can be mastered even on a modest budget — the total cost of the mission was roughly Rs 450 crore, or $73 million, making it the least-expensive Mars mission to date.” It was a very bold move to aim for Mars, history being a testimony.
NBC noted, before the launch, “This is India's first Mars mission, and no country has been fully successful on its first try. More than half the world's attempts to reach Mars — 23 out of 40 missions — have failed, including missions by Japan in 1999 and China in 2011.” The same craft caused a lot of humorous headlines, including “Why India's Mars Orbiter Mission Cost Less Than 'Gravity' Movie”. The vast difference in cost to landing a machine on Mars was astounding.
Fast forward to 2016 and the ISRO is continually breaking it’s own records. From helping map rural assets to joint programs with NASA on issues like climate change, it’s making a case for becoming the world’s foremost space exploration freelancer. Last month, the Hindu reported that “In one go, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on Wednesday launched 20 satellites. They include two student satellites from Indian universities and 17 of four foreign countries.”
Given its momentum, Tech 2 reports that “Isro wants to launch at least 10 to 12 satellites every year to meet the demand.” as a response to increase in demand to satellite based services in India. A fair question to ask is what is causing this spur in the Indian Space program and, Kumar Krishen, a senior space scientist at NASA thinks he has an answer. "India has two major advantages as far as satellite launch services are concerned. The first is the pool of diligent human resources. The second is the cost-competitiveness of space-related work in India," he said.
He added, "I think these services will see substantial expansion as the Middle Eastern countries will need to put their satellites in the earth orbit." These factors are contributing to a good ecosystem for the agency to scale to a global level.
With the rise in global demand for satellite services for industries ranging from Internet providers, airlines and even carmakers seeking bandwidth for communications; and companies like Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos's Blue Origin highlighting the private sector’s exposé of the market, Kumar was noted stating: "If tomorrow, Elon Musk is able to do what he is working on today, he can launch every day, every week, every month... And obviously, if he is able to do that, he will capture a large market."
Cover credit: PSD Graphics