Indian Moon Probe’s Failure Won’t Stop an Asian Space Race That Threatens Regional Security – Space.com

This article was originally published atThe Conversation.The publication contributed the article to Space.com'sExpert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

On Sept. 7, India's Chandrayaan-2 lunar mission deployed its Vikram lander for an attempted landing at the Moons south pole.Communications with the lander were lostjust minutes prior to the scheduled landing. Recent imaging suggests that Vikram may have survived the landing intact, but it might be unable to communicate. No matter the outcome, the mission has already proved successful as Chandrayaan-2 continues to orbit the Moon.

Chandrayaan-2 adds to the list of Indias recent accomplishments in space. This probe was sent on a scientific mission, but Indias achievements in space includeother military developments, all of which reflect a challenge to China. Though some are warning of aspace race between the U.S. and China, I suggest the real space race is happening in Asia.

This year alone, both China and India have landed, or attempted to land, probes on the moon. These types of missions are one way to achieve international prestige. But they also peacefully demonstrate capabilities that could be used in conflict. Frommy perspective as a space policy analyst, Indias space activities, combined with itsescalating tensions with Pakistan, contribute to increasing regional tension.

Employees of India's space agency react with disappointment at news of lost contact with the Vikram lunar lander.

(Image credit: ISRO)

Most international observers have focused, with good reason, on Indias nuclear ambitions. Like its nuclear program, Indias space programtraces its origins to the 1950s, though the Indian Space Research Organization was not formed until 1969. Early on, the Indian Space Research Organization focused on design and fabrication of satellites. Later, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it concentrated on the development of its own rockets. Since then, India has developed severalreliable and powerful rocketsincluding its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle.

India has used its expertise to foster a growing commercial space sector.It sells extra space on its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicleto commercial companies, which has generated significant income for the Indian Space Research Organization.India recently approved the creationof a private institution,NewSpace India Limited, to facilitate technology transfers and market space-centric industries.

Indias first Moon mission, the orbiterChandrayaan-1, launched in 2008,contributed to the discovery of water on the moon. In 2014, theMars Orbiter Missionmade India the fourth entity to send a mission to the Red Planet after the U.S., Russia and the European Space Agency. The ultimate goal of the current Chandrayaan-2 mission was to deploy a lander and rover on the Moon's south pole to further explore potential water deposits. India also strives tolaunch its own astronautsinto space by 2022.

These efforts have been primarily civilian and peaceful in nature. Indias turn toward themilitary uses of spacebegan only in the 1990s. With greater frequency India is developing its own military satellites providing services such as remote sensing, tracking and communications.India's missiles are benefittedby technology developed at ISRO and their increasing capabilities reflects their concerns with not just Pakistan, but China.

Since the establishment of the Chinese communist state,conflict between the two states has come on several fronts. There have been several clashes over disputed territorial boundaries and, as rising economic powers governed by different ideologies, India and China continue to battle for regional and international preeminence.

Chinas own accomplishments have served as motivation for Indian developments. For instance,China's nuclear tests in 1964 encouragedthe Indian nuclear program, which conducted its own nuclear tests in 1974. In space, China has expanded its scientific, civilian and military activities with an active human spaceflight program and its own program of lunar missions. In January of 2019, Chang'e-4 successfully landed on the far side of the Moon andjust recently discoveredan unknown gel-like substance.

India continues to feel pressure from its Chinese neighbor. FollowingChina's anti-satellite test in 2008, India began development of its own space weapons. In March 2019,India successfully tested an anti-satellite weapon: a missile, launched from the ground, that destroyed one of its own satellites in low Earth orbit. Like previous anti-satellite tests performed by the U.S., Russia and China, there wereimmediate concerns about debris. Despite this, India clearly intendedto send a message to Chinaand others, signaling their ability to not only protect their own satellites but destroy threatening Chinese ones as well.

These more aggressive moves fit in with other recent Indian actions. In August,India withdrew the special status of Kashmirthat largely allowed the region to set its own laws. India thendeployed troops to the region, arrested several hundred Kashmiri politicians and moved to sever communication links between Kashmir and the rest of the region.

These actions, along with Indias space activities, do not go unnoticed by Pakistan. As analystsMian Zahid Hussain and Raja Qaiser Ahmed write, Pakistan feels more insecure under Indias low earth orbit satellites and dominant surveillance and espionage capabilities. This insecurity, combined with Indias behavior toward Kashmir, could prompt Pakistan to develop anti-satellite weapons and other space technologies. If this starts an arms race, it would introduce more instability in an already delicate region.

In a speech following the loss of communication with the Vikram lander, Indian Prime MinisterNarendra Modi said, We are proud of our space program and scientists, their hard work and determination. (They) ensure a better life, not only for our citizens, but also for other nations. Like other space powers, India is seeking to improve its technology and way of life, but advances can also bring greater security concerns.

Wendy Whitman Cobb, Professor of Strategy and Security Studies, US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies

This article is republished fromThe Conversationunder a Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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