https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/indias- ... ic-impact/India’s Chandrayaan 2 Moon Mission and Its Strategic Impact
The lunar mission comes amid a changing strategic context for outer space.
By Namrata Goswami, July 13, 2019
On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on its surface. Next week, as we gear up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that historic landing, there is another lunar mission that will be on its way to the moon. India’s Chandrayaan 2 moon mission is scheduled to be launched on July 15. The landing site is between Manzinus C and Simpelius N, about 70 degrees south of the equator, closest to the South Pole of the moon. The mission will consist of an orbiter, a lander called Vikram, and a rover known as Pragyan. The touchdown of the lander is scheduled for September 6 this year. While the motivations for the Chandrayaan 2 mission likely preceded the global dialogue on space resources that has animated the world this year, India is rebranding the mission within that emerging discussion on space resources, especially with a landing close to the lunar South Pole.
The South Pole appears to be among the most important areas for industrial exploitation, and China has already articulated lunar settlement plans nearby in its long-term space goals. Significantly, India will be attempting to land on an ancient high plane just 600 kilometers from the Lunar South Pole. According to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), “the payloads will collect scientific information on lunar topography, mineralogy, elemental abundance, lunar exosphere and signatures of hydrogel and water ice.” India is attempting to land on an area where no nation has landed before, and once there aims to study the potential for helium-3 deposits on the lunar surface, worth trillions.
Consideration of helium-3 appears to have been a motivation or consideration of India’s lunar program from the start. As early as September of 2006, two years before the launch of Chandrayaan 1, then-ISRO Chairman Madhavan Nair stated that Chandrayaan 1 will search the moon’s surface for deposits of helium-3, which can be used to power future nuclear reactors. Speaking at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Mumbai, Nair stated, “The quantity of helium-3 is also very important as it will determine the economics before we exploit it.” According to K. Sivan, the present chairman of ISRO, “The countries which have the capacity to bring that source from the moon to Earth will dictate the process…I don’t want to be just a part of them, I want to lead them.” Helium-3 is abundant on the moon, compared to Earth, and would require difficult extraction processes, but once that technology is cracked, it could theoretically meet Earth’s energy demands, several decades over.
Chandrayaan 2 will be the first of a parade of lunar landers after China’s Chang’e 4 reignited international interest on the moon, and kindled a new attention among space-faring nations, aimed at resource exploitation. The timing of the Indian lunar landing is significant internationally. Chang’e 4 landing on January 3 on the far side of the moon established a new global context, a context I have termed the Chang’e era of long term space development and presence. It changed the focus of conversation from an Apollo-era focus on dramatic firsts in space to broader concerns over securing access to space-based resources such as lunar ice and metals. Chandrayaan 2 is the first mission to take place in this new global context. There is now a broad interest in space mining and accompanying legal frameworks. These are propelled by expectations that the size of the space economy will grow from its present $400 billion to exceed over $1 trillion by 2040.