On Wednesday, August 23rd, 2023, India became the fourth country to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon. India’s moon mission was not its first attempt, having failed a recent attempt in 2019. However, its success this time showcases not only the accomplishments its space program has made in the last three years. It also demonstrates India’s commitment to being among the world’s leaders in the new space economy. India’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), has progressively orchestrated a rich private-governmental effort. And through these efforts, the lunar landing is likely to be the first of many subsequent ISRO achievements. As such, India has attracted the world’s attention in its quest for space.
India’s moon mission is a notable feat for a country whose space program a couple of decades ago was minimal. But things have changed a great deal in recent years. India’s space technology sector now has hundreds of startups that explore a variety as aspects of the future space economy. Likewise, it is increasingly becoming a go-to destination for other nation’s space programs for rocket launches. And its landing on the moon’s South Pole is a first among all space programs. The number of ISRO achievements that have occurred in the last decade is nothing short of remarkable. As such, India will likely be a major player in the coming years in terms of commercial space activities.
India’s Space Startup Sector
India is now the most populated country, and it notably has numerous technology hubs throughout its region. However, one in particular represents the nation’s space technology center where space industry startups tend to migrate. This area, approximately one hour south of Hyderabad, has over 140 registered space tech startups. And this sector is one that is highly pursued by current venture capitalists. Despite a constrained climate for venture capital funding overall, India’s space startups are doing just fine. In fact, in 2022, over $120 million in VC funding was secured, which reflects an annual growth rate more than double. This was certainly encouraged by plans related to India’s moon mission. And it reflects one of the ISRO achievements related to its private partnerships.
Naturally, one of the areas where many startups focus involves space rocket technologies. Skyroot Aerospace is one such company that is recognized for launching India’s first private satellite in late 2022. However, a much larger number of space tech startups are vendors that supply various parts and supplies for space travel. In fact, over 400 such vendors exist in India’s space sector, and dozens collaborated in India’s moon mission. Rather than developing these capabilities within the ISRO or among a few companies, private industry was supported instead. This provides a level of diversification and competition that helps keep costs low and drives constant innovation. These ISRO achievements are just as important as space rocket booster advancements.
A Seat at the Space Economy Table
India’s initial attempts at space travel dates back to 1963. Its first space mission was rudimentary at best, launching a rocket that achieved an Earth’s orbits of 124 miles. But much has changed since then, especially the boom in private space tech companies. India now boasts the world’s most reliable workhorse rocket, which was one of the major ISRO achievements. Being 95% reliable, India has been able to reduce rocket insurance costs by half. This and other related ISRO achievements helped advance India’s program and success leading to India’s moon mission. As a result, it now sits alongside the U.S., China, and Russia as space tech leaders. The nation’s ability to be the first to land on the moon’s south pole supports India’s space-related prestige. Likewise, India is also the second to have an active rover on the moon currently collecting lunar data (China was first).
In recent years, some fortuitous events did help advance India to the top of the global space race. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine negatively impacted Russia’s space program and undermined their ability to collaborate with other nations. Britain suffered setbacks related to this as well with several of their spacecraft in Russia confiscated. And notably, China’s threats to U.S. national security provided India with an opportunity to gain a stronger U.S. alliance. This was demonstrated during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the U.S. in meeting with President Biden. These events alongside ISRO achievements helped India gain worldwide respect in the space frontier sector. And now with India’s moon mission and successful landing, their reputation will certainly increase further.
India’s Commercial Space Contributions
As might be expected based in ISRO achievements, India’s commercial potential in the space economy is notable. At the present time, India already boasts a quality spaceport located in Sriharikota. Its location along the equator makes it a great site for space launches for a variety of orbital targets. Combined with India’s rocket technologies, it represents the second cheapest option for space launches. SpaceX enjoys first position with its reusable rockets and larger payload potential. But India has competitive launch pricing for smaller capacity loads, making it attractive to different clients. India’s mood mission success will further increase this launch sites attractiveness as will its growing space tech sector.
India has plans to offer much more than space launches and space transportation, however. In fact, India also has numerous industries that collect and analyze space satellite data. Some collect satellite information to enhance agricultural and fishing industries. Satellites are also being used to provide phone services to remote rural areas. These same efforts are also facilitating solar energy access for farming in rural areas as well. And given its targeted arrival on the southern lunar pole with India’s moo mission, it has exploration plans as well. This will support anticipated ISRO achievements in the future that include solar studies and a Venus mission. Based on these developments, there’s little doubt India has earned respect as a space exploration nation. And at least presently, it is among the leaders in these pursuits.