[Solved] What is India’s plan to have its own space station and how will it benefit our space programme?(UPSC GS-3 Mains 2019)

Space station is also called orbital station. It orbits around Earth. Basically, it is a large spacecraft or man-made station in space, a home where astronauts live and also receives several spacecrafts from the Earth. It is a kind of science lab, many countries worked together to build it and also, work together to use it. Recently ISRO chief said ‘We are planning to have a separate space station. We will not be a part of ISS. Our space station is going to be very small’.

 India’s plan to have its own space station:

  • ISRO Director Dr. K. Sivan said “We have to sustain the Gaganyaan programme. So, subsequently, as a long-term plan, we are planning to have the space station in India. We are going to join the international community in manned missions to moon, asteroids. We have a clear plan for the space programme”.
  • India want to have a separate space station of its own. For this India will launch a small module for conducting microgravity experiments. Gaganyaan aims to send a crew of two to three people to space for a period of up to seven days. The spacecraft will be placed in low Earth orbit of 300-400 km.
  • The agency will submit to the government after the Gaganyaan mission a detailed report on how it intends to set up the space station. It currently believes it would take five to seven years to conceptualise the space station.
  • The Indian space station will be much smaller  than the International Space Station and will be used for carrying out microgravity experiments (not for space tourism).
  • Preliminary plan for the space station is to accommodate astronauts for up to 20 days in space, and the project will be an extension of the Gaganyaan mission.
  • ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) is working on space docking experiment (Spadex), a technology that is crucial for making the space station functional. Space docking is a technology that allows transferring humans from one spacecraft to another.

Significance of the space station:

  • Space station is essential for collecting meaningful scientific data, especially for biological experiments.
  • Provide platforms for greater number and length of scientific studies than available on other space vehicles. ( as Gaganyaan will take humans and experiments in microgravity for few days only).
  • Each crew member stays aboard the station for weeks or months, but rarely more than a year.
  • It would help in different microgravity science experiments in diverse fields such as astrobiology, astronomy, materials science, space medicine and space weather.
  • Space stations are used to study the effects of long-term space flight on the human body.
  • Experimentation
  •  Indian scientists will be able to perform various experiments aboard the Space Station, involving experiments aimed to  understand working of life outside the earth.
  •  Observations
  •  Instruments aboard the space station can be used to make experimental observations on various events that can affect inhabitants on the earth.
  •  Ex: Solar flares, Meteorites etc.
  •  International co-operation
  •  By having own space station, India will try to have better co-opertion with foreign scientists, who can work together aboard the space station. This will benefit Indian scientists on the long run.
  •  Tackle Chinese hegemony
  •  China’s space station is expected to outlast the ageing International Space Station and Indian Space station will act as backup plan before a new space station comes up. This will increase global reputation for Indian research.
  •  Thus, we can realise the importance of this announcement thorugh experimental point of view, which will boost India’s outer space research program enormously on the longer run.
  •  Importance of Indian Space Station
  •  Experimentation
  •  Indian scientists will be able to perform various experiments aboard the Space Station, involving experiments aimed to  understand working of life outside the earth.
  •  Observations
  •  Instruments aboard the space station can be used to make experimental observations on various events that can affect inhabitants on the earth.
  •  Ex: Solar flares, Meteorites etc.
  •  International co-operation
  •  By having own space station, India will try to have better co-opertion with foreign scientists, who can work together aboard the space station. This will benefit Indian scientists on the long run.
  •  Tackle Chinese hegemony
  •  China’s space station is expected to outlast the ageing International Space Station and Indian Space station will act as backup plan before a new space station comes up. This will increase global reputation for Indian research.
  •  Thus, we can realise the importance of this announcement thorugh experimental point of view, which will boost India’s outer space research program enormously on the longer run.
  • The Indian space station will be much smaller (mass of 20 tonnes) than the International Space    Station and will be used for carrying out microgravity experiments (not for space tourism).
  • Preliminary plan for the space station is to accommodate astronauts for up to 20 days in space, and the project will be an extension of the Gaganyaan mission.
  • It will orbit Earth at an altitude of around 400km.
  • ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) is working on space docking experiment (Spadex), a technology that is crucial for making the space station functional.
  • India is planning to conduct small microgravity experiments in space.

 Benefit of own space station programme

  • Space station is essential for collecting meaningful scientific data, especially for biological experiments.
  • Provide platforms for greater number and length of scientific studies than available on other space vehicles. (as Gaganyaan will take humans and experiments in microgravity for few days only).
  • Each crew member stays aboard the station for weeks or months, but rarely more than a year.
  • Space stations are used to study the effects of long-term space flight on the human body.
  • ISRO needs this facility in the context of its various space missions like interplanetary mission to Venus will be launched in the next 2-3 years.

 The Indian Space Station

  • A space station is an artificial satellite placed in orbit and is used as a long-term base for manned operations in space.
  • The Indian space station would be stationed at an altitude of 400 kilometers from Earth.
  • The proposed Indian space station would be similar to the International Space Station (ISS) but smaller in size weighing about 20 tonnes and would take another 5 to 7 seven years to construct.
  • The preliminary plan for the space station is to accommodate astronauts for up to 15-20 days in space but specific details will emerge after the Gaganyaan Mission is complete.
  • There will be no collaboration with any other country for this project.
  • The space station will most likely be used to conduct microgravity experiments.
  • How will Indian Space Station benefit our space program:
  • Constructing a space station after being able to safely orbit a crew in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is a natural progression that many advanced space-faring countries have pursued to expand their space capabilities.
  • The announcement by ISRO also falls in line with such a progression.
  • These foundations should provide leverage to further carry out larger scale and precision experiments in space to cement the know-how required for human-rated vehicle transfers in orbit.
  • The major technical leap required to establish a space station beyond simply having these capabilities is in the ability to also carry larger payloads into space and achieving the ability to precisely rendezvous and dock spacecraft to a space station in orbit.
  • This will allow scaling up of infrastructure on orbit – a must to provide more room for astronauts to live and carry out experiments over longer time frames.
  • Though India has the option of joining the ISS, rather than making its own space station, it will not have enough significance for India. This is because the ISS is now in the last leg of its existence and is expected to become redundant from 2024-28.
  • In the heyday of the ISS also, India could not have been a part of the ISS since it was excluded from such projects because of Delhi’s nuclear policy.
  • Further, owning a space station will offer the Indian scientific community a range of subjects to conduct research in, from astronomy and meteorology to biology and medicine.
  • Also, the material is one arena where India should make major investments. Breakthroughs in this field would have major commercial and strategic benefits.

 Challenges:

  • From a budgetary standpoint, the project proposal shall estimate the cost of India’s space station.
  • This shall be made after the Ganganyaan project for the approval from the government. This may pose important challenges to the Indian Space Station Project.
  • The ISS which spreads as long as a football field and costs $3 billion a year (Rs. 20,000 crores) for NASA alone in maintenance and has exceeded more than $100 billion (Rs. 6,50,000 crore) in assembling it.
  • Finances of such magnitude is very difficult to provide for any Indian space research project in the near future.
  • Further, ISRO’s project proposal for such a space station will require a plan to upgrade the payload carrying capacity of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mark III), which is going to carry Indian astronauts into space as a part of Gaganyaan), by a considerable magnitude.

 Way forward:

 To keep the cost as a smaller multiple of the Gaganyaan project, ISRO could well choose such strategies to limit the architecture of the space station and the goals to be achieved on orbit.

 Apart from that, India can involve the private sector in such projects. Recently, NASA has declared that the ISS would be open for commercial business and people could “purchase” a ticket to visit the ISS. India could think of developing such projects under a public-private partnership model.

 Conclusion:

 Thus, the proposed India’s space station will help to study atmospheric composition of the planet and would be a milestone for the country in its endeavor to advance space exploration. From successful lunar missions and multiple satellite launches, ISRO believes it has reached a technological point where it can create a more dynamic space program. More advanced operations in space would reflect India’s overall growth as a tech breeding ground where innovations are happening at a rapid pace. While the plan for an Indian space station within 10 years seems ambitious, India is increasingly becoming a potent tech player and is well-placed for its plans to become a reality.

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