India will land people on the moon

India starts its moon mission successfully - and with it announces its ambitions in the new space race

The start was delayed several times, now it has been successfully completed. The Indian space mission Chandrayaan-2 has planned a landing on the moon for September. The project is also a challenge to rival China.

It worked: with the second attempt, the Indian Chandrayaan-2 moon mission started on Monday. At 2:43 p.m. local time, the 640-ton GSLV Mk-3 launcher lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Shriharikota, north of Chennai City. It took the rocket just under 17 minutes to launch the three-part Chandrayaan-2 probe into orbit. The probe is scheduled to land on the moon on September 7th.

The event was broadcast live on television and duly acclaimed in the South Indian space center. "This is the beginning of India's historic journey to the moon," said the head of the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro), Kailasavadivoo Sivan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the mission as "Indian in heart and spirit". According to Modi, the project will not only increase knowledge about the moon, but also encourage Indian youth to engage in science, cutting-edge research and innovation.

If the mission is successful, India will be the fourth country in the world to land on the moon after the USA, Russia and China. The Chandrayaan-2 probe, which consists of a landing platform, a moving robot and a satellite, is unmanned - but it is ambitious. She will explore the previously unexplored South Pole of the moon for the first time and collect important information about the minerals and chemical composition of the moon's surface as well as search for water on the earth's satellite.

The mission thus represents an important step in the evolution of the Indian space program. As early as 2008, the Chandrayaan-1 mission brought a probe into orbit the moon, which with an impact probe not only deposits an Indian flag on the moon, but also in rock samples was able to demonstrate the presence of water molecules. The now planned controlled landing of a platform, which should enable further research, is one of the greatest challenges in space travel, as there is no atmosphere on the moon and braking is very difficult.

"India's next mission will be sure to send people to the moon," says Rajeshwari Rajagopalan, head of the program for nuclear and space policy at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) think tank in the capital Delhi. According to the previous planning, this should already happen in 2022. Just a week ago, on July 14, the first launch of the Chandrayaan-2 was canceled at the last minute due to a technical problem. This is not uncommon because of the complex technology in space travel.

The Hindu nationalists cheer

The Indian lunar mission is part of a “new age of the conquest of space”, as the British magazine “Economist” recently wrote on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first human steps on the moon by the American Neil Armstrong. As in 1969, the new race to the moon will be determined by fierce competition. At that time it was the two superpowers, the USA and the Soviet Union, who tried to outdo each other, now it is the ambitions of the new Asian powers China and India that are driving space travel. In January, China landed a probe on the far side of the moon. The American President Donald Trump has also announced that he will send astronauts to the moon again in 2024.

"China wants to catch up with the American and Soviet achievements," says Rajeshwari Rajagopalan. "But China's activities in space have also raised security concerns." The Asian superpower carried out the first anti-satellite test in 20 years in 2007, which is why other states are now trying to keep up with China's space activities. In March of this year, India successfully shot down its own satellite in space with a cruise missile. This was hailed by the Hindu nationalist government in Delhi as an important milestone for India's security in space.

India's space budget is modest

But there are also new commercial interests in space after manned space missions have long promised little scientific value. One motive is the possible extraction of raw materials. "India cannot afford to fall behind if these opportunities prove to be fruitful," says Rajeshwari Rajagopalan, and not only. By transporting satellites from other countries into space, India hopes to cut a slice of the lucrative space market, which is estimated to have a volume of 300 billion dollars worldwide.

Richer countries have a clear advantage here because space travel is expensive. But India has become a successful space exploration nation through continuous work and innovation over the years. The Indian budget for space travel is around 4 billion dollars a year, while China is providing as much as 8 billion dollars and NASA's budget for the current year is 21.5 billion dollars. The Chandrayaan-2 mission is also much cheaper than comparable programs in other countries, at $ 140 million.