Space Station also called as Orbital Station is an unique kind of spacecraft that is capable of supporting human crew members, stationed in space for an extended time period. Space Station also allows other spacecrafts to dock on it for transfer of crew members. It is so designed that it will provide a small habitable space for few scientists to live there for some days and carry out research in an environment that cannot be created on Earth. At present, only one functional space station is revolving around the Earth in its lower orbit called as International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is about 360-tonne and revolving at an approximate distance of 400Km above Earth surface. ISS is a collaborative project between European Space Agency, NASA (United States), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, CSA(Canada) and Roscosmos (Russia). Considered as the world’s largest international cooperative programme in science and technology, ISS, was launched into orbit in 1998 with 1st long-term residents arriving on it in 2000. It sustains 6 astronauts who conduct experiments in the field of biology, human biology, physics, astronomy and metrology. As ISS will retire around 2028 and there is no replacement yet confirmed, so India is planning for a space Station launch which will help to meet India’s demands for executing its space missions.
ISRO’s Aim to Launch Indian Space Station
In June 2019 ISRO declared its goal of building and launching its own permanent space station. This is supposed to be an extension to the Gaganyan Project- the 1st manned mission scheduled for 2022. As ISS, the only functional space station at this time is expected to end its work span around 2028, ISRO has felt the need to move for its own version of space station. ISRO’s plan involve launching a small module to carry out microgravity experiments which in future aid ISRO in conducting separate missions to study the Sun and Venus as planned for the future. ISRO has been working on 4th stage of its workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle to derive ways so that robotic arm docking with spacecraft can be established. The success of this 4th stage (space docking technology) will be essential for ISRO’s experiments in the planned space station.
India will become 4th country following Russia, USA, China to launch astronauts into space and space station will be an addition to India’s space ambitions of anti-satellite missile tests, creation of a Defense Space Agency. India’s space station is planned to be smaller than the 420 tonnes weighing ISS and will weigh about 15-20 tonnes which will accumulate few people for about 20days. Gaganyaan mission is the 1st step that will help ISRO to master technology to send humans into space (3 astronauts for seven days into the lower orbit) and space station mission will allow humans to live in space for some time and conduct experiments. An apex committee has already been formed to choose potential crew members trained in India and abroad for the maiden space flight. At present test pilots will be selected from armed forces and after successful functioning the recruitment will be opened to accumulate others. ISRO had signed MOU with Indian Air Force for selecting pilots for Gaganyaan and a collaborative work is ongoing with Navy for recovery of crew module after it lands in water post re-entering into Earth’s atmosphere. Prior to Gaganyaan launch by a GSLV MK-III vehicle in 2022 ISRO has lined up two unmanned missions for December 2020 and 2nd after 6 months.
Viability of ISRO’s Space Station Mission
Number of Challenges exist which ISRO needs to overcome in order to make its space station mission a success. Firstly, budget needed for the mission will be a hindrance. Even though ISRO has proved itself to be efficient in executing low costs missions but it will be difficult to compress the huge budget needed for this mission. The ISS cost around 120 billion dollars along with annual maintenance cost of around 7 billion dollars. Though ISRO’s aim will not demand this amount immediately it will be a challenging task considering India’s struggling economic state. Second, ISRO has technical capabilities but it faces constraints in manpower which will affect the production strength. Third, ISRO will need to overcome foreign competition like from China which has planned to launch its space station “Tiangong” in 2020. This will be a challenge India will have to face with the expected retirement of ISS by 2028. China will gain a upper hand if these events unfold in the current existing pace and India will need to setup its own space station at the earliest but at the same time with careful and proper management which will be essential to avoid Chinese monopoly in space missions after end of ISS.
Importance of India’s Space Station for its Future Missions
ISRO has been striving to achieve a significant position in global space network by conducting more and more interplanetary missions. The space station will be a significant state in developing reusable rockets, in-orbit docking systems and manned missions. It will also allow for cross-collaboration experiments with other nations. At present, ISRO has planned for mission Aditya-L1 in 2020 to study the sun which significantly impacts Earth climate change and second it has planned for a mission to study Venus. The past statistics show that about 300 different experiments in fields of astronomy, material science, space, medicine etc. have been conducted by Indian astronauts since 2000 who fly to ISS to accomplish these experiments. These numerous ambitions of ISRO along with future prolonged space exploration projects would require a permanent space station. Gaganyaan and space station mission will prove to be the foundation for future space exploration techniques. This fact can be established from India’s 1st moon mission in 2008 which helped in discovery of water molecules on the moon.
Benefits of Space Station for India
First, with its own space station India will establish a strong hold in global space technology research network. China may become the only nation with a functional space station after 2028 and considering the strained India-China relationship, a space station for India will be essential to conduct research and experiment work in space. Second, space technology has plethora of advantages like improving communication boosting agriculture and its management, helping in disaster management, land management and more importantly it will be crucial for national security. Further, space station will be pivotal to fulfill the major aim of India’s Space programme that is being a leader in application of advanced technologies to solve problems of society, as was envisioned by father of India’s space programme, Vikram Sarabhai. In the recent globalization era, space technology will prove to be a game-changer by improving major sectors like defence, agriculture, communication etc. Lastly, as more experiments are successfully carried out by using space stations, more details about Earth’s atmosphere and solar system will open up which will be needed for future survival of life on Earth.
ISRO has specialized in low-cost space launches since 1960s. Its successful mission to Mars at a low cost of 74 million dollars in 2014, successful launching of 104 satellites into space within a span of 18 minutes in 2017 etc. prove its technical capabilities. Space station will be a worthwhile addition to this list and will boost India’s advancement in space technology. However, cautioned long-term and sustainable approach is must for the success of space station mission as it will require huge budget and careful planning. It should be kept in view that India’s space mission does not deviate from its goal of societal benefit and involve in only space race with other countries, just as a matter of pride.