The successful launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket on 6 February, orchestrated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, was ground-breaking and revolutionary in more ways than one.
SpaceX was established to explore the possibility of human colonisation of other planets, particularly Mars, and also to come across cost-effective methods for space exploration and travel. Falcon Heavy has brought us one step closer to both.
SpaceX Falcon Heavy. Reuters
Even the most effective operational rocket to have already been invented, Falcon Heavy, using its own reusable boosters, has the capacity to lift nearly 1,41,000 lbs of payload into orbit in a record low price — at $1300 per kg of payload, as against the shuttle’s $60,000 per kg.
Since the start of space exploration, it’s just been government agencies like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the USA which have led breakthroughs and inventions. The Falcon Heavy launch is monumental particularly since it’s a manifestation of what the future looks like for personal sector-led innovation in space, truly the final frontier left for humanity to conquer. The US has allowed personal competition to flourish in this area, and we are witnessing cutting-edge competition between the likes of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, fighting to find cost-effective tactics to detect and unravel this last frontier.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was created just eleven years following NASA, but our nation’s financial constraints are a barrier in spearheading the kind of innovation that NASA has showcased. But since of those very limitations, we’ve often been made to discover innovative ways to browse around them in order to stay competitive. The Mars Orbiter Mission is a case in point. To be able to overcome technological shocks and operate to a record-low budget, ISRO used the Hohmann transfer orbit system, better called the “slingshot” method, in which the Mangalyaan was made to orbit round the Earth six days to collect the pace to be catapulted towards Mars.
ISRO has made international headlines a few times with their effective deployment and implementation of such missions, directed by a gifted and innovative pool of scientists and engineers. I see no reason why India can not in least piggyback on this revolution in the usa and the world, if not to establish businesses rivalling SpaceX, to change the nation into a hub for research.
SpaceX is merely the beginning, and we can expect to see a huge industry for space exploration to blossom in the next few decades, from colonisation of planets to drilling asteroids and everything in between. There is time for India to take action in spearheading a few of those inventions and become significant players in the space market.
The debate that space travel or exploration is a niche market in India does not hold, because it is really a international market that transcends geographic and national boundaries. It is not tough to imagine why these companies were birthed in Silicon Valley, given its competitive advantages and inherent efficiencies such as test markets and the like. These products were created for the American consumer and then substituted to suit the tastes and practices of different niches.
Innovation in space isn’t subject to standard business practices. You’re constructing a product not for an individual market, but for mankind as a whole. This is essential because creation could stem from any part of the world, it can appear from within India itself. Our talented pool of aeronautical and aerospace scientists and engineers have the capacity to draw global capital and direct innovation without needing to compete with Silicon Valley, since they have to cater to global demand rather than the Indian market specifically.
The stage is already set for India to take advantage of the burgeoning marketplace — ISRO has an exciting space application, many Indian start-ups are attempting to penetrate this market, and for the very first time, the private industry is poised to lead efforts in space exploration and travel. India has the capability to take charge in beating this final frontier and compete with the US, and even overtake China and Russia because we have a far stronger private sector than the latter.
As coders and IT men slowly get replaced with artificial intelligence, the space industry could very well end up being another revolution into re-energise services, manufacturing and employment in the country.