Chandrayaan-3: Inspiring a New Era of Scientific Ambition in India

TK Arun

Tech advances aside, what Chandrayaan-3 proved is how people just like us can dare to dream of pulling off complex missions. And there’s the big spinoff for national security.

India is on the Moon, Indians are over the Moon. Such is the delight and pride in India becoming the fourth nation after the US, Russia and China to land a craft intact on the Moon that it will materially change attitudes towards educational choices. It will boost national self-confidence across the board, including in tackling scientific and technological challenges and in taking new strides in sophisticated design and manufacturing.

Some areas of direct benefit from Chandrayaan are obvious. Satellite and rocket technologies are in the spotlight. This has strategic as well as diverse commercial benefits – given the geopolitical flux and paradigm shifts in the use of information and artificial intelligence.

Satellites are key to strategic intelligence and military capability. Satellites with synthetic aperture radars are self-illuminating. This means they emit visible or invisible lights that beam down on Earth, receive and process the signals that bounce back and produce actionable intelligence, peer through clouds and fog and smoke, observe at night with infra-red light, and even see to certain depths below the ground.

The new generation of weapons are not standalone belchers of fire and brimstone. Rather, they plug into information networks, making them more deadly and cost-effective. These information networks are built of arrays of different kinds of satellites, drones and even filtered civilian chatter. Without the decision-making capability provided by the likes of Silicon Valley military tech star Palantir, Ukraine would have succumbed to Russia long ago.

India’s new embrace of jointness in the armed forces should integrate satellite intelligence as well, with all wings able to summon and process such intelligence, without any wing its primary custodian. Chandrayaan’s success should trigger demand for, and supply of, more and more differentiated satellite data.

A second important use of satellites is in farming, to identify moisture data, pestilence, cropped area, likely crop yields, crop damage, and insurance company liability – not just in one’s own country, but across the world, to keep tabs on likely supply and price trends.

An even more vital use of satellites would be in tracking the weather and likely vagaries of climate change. Can machine learning or artificial intelligence forecast the likelihood of cloudbursts, floods, forest fires, droughts and heat waves, from the variability observed by satellites in dozens of parameters, apart from giving early warning of these increasingly prolific bearers of havoc?

When the demand for satellite data grows exponentially, so would the demand for satellites of different kinds. The manufacture of satellites and sophisticated kit to go on them would become a vital, high-value commercial opportunity.

Of course, once a satellite is made and kitted out, it has to be launched into the right orbit at the right altitude. This calls for incessant innovation in rocketry. Elon Musk’s satellite company SpaceX is the world leader in reusable rockets, which bring down the cost of satellite launches significantly.

Indian startups are developing their own innovations in the area. Rocket science is not limited to propulsion, using a mix of liquid and solid fuels, of projectiles along predetermined pathways. New materials, coatings, and their clever deployment are vital too.

Launch vehicles propel, with appropriate variations, peaceful communication satellites streaming movies and also missiles with deadly payloads. Chandrayaan will give added impetus to satellite launch capability and India’s missile programme. Commercial satellite launches would be a big business opportunity, in which India can hope to play big.

Signal and communication capability must keep getting better, with ever more satellites going up in space, bouncing signals off one another and to Earth receivers, in massive volumes. That would be another area of technological and commercial innovation.

Chandrayaan shows that daring to go where no man has gone before is no longer the preserve of the rich, white male. The teams that managed Chandrayaan comprise people who were educated like us, work for public sector salaries, dress like us, look like us and speak like us. If they can, with dedication, teamwork, and good leadership, pull off, and with joy, a daring, complex feat like sending an exploration robot scuttling across the surface of the Moon to look for water-ice and possible clues to the origin of the solar system, why can’t other ordinary Indians undertake similar projects?

Expect more children to be drawn to science and maths at school and later. Expect more graduates to go on to doctoral courses. Expect state-owned enterprises to show rude fingers to dogmatic champions of the free market, and go on to excel in what they do.

Before we let our imagination of the possible drag us to the rosy extremities of hope, let us remind ourselves that we also have amongst us those who see the Moon not as Earth’s satellite waiting to be explored, but as the waning and waxing determinant of crime, at least, in Uttar Pradesh.

The article was first published in the Times Of India as How the moon landing will unleash a billion dreams on August 25, 2023.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

Read more by the author: PM Modi Lays the Groundwork for 2024 Election Victory from the Red Fort.

Posted by Priyanka Negi, research intern at IMPRI.

Authors

  • IMPRI

    IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.

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  • TK Arun

    TK Arun is a Senior Journalist and Columnist based in Delhi.

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  • PriyankaNegi