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 created to explore the possibility of human colonisation of other planets, especially Mars, and to come across low-cost methods for space exploration and travel. Falcon Heavy has brought us one step closer to both.
SpaceX Falcon Heavy. Reuters
Even the most powerful operational rocket to have already been invented, Falcon Heavy, using its own reusable boosters, has the capacity to lift almost 1,41,000 pounds of payload into orbit in a record low cost — at $1300 per kg of payload, as against the space shuttle’s $60,000 per kg.
Since the start of space exploration, it has just been government agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States which have led breakthroughs and inventions. The Falcon Heavy launching is monumental especially since it’s a manifestation of the future looks like for personal sector-led innovation in distance, really the last frontier left for mankind to conquer. The US has enabled personal competition to flourish within this area, and we’re witnessing cutting competition involving the likes of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, battling to discover cost-effective tactics to detect and unravel this last frontier.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was established only twenty five years after NASA, but our nation’s financial constraints are a barrier in spearheading the type of invention that NASA has been showcased. But because of those very limitations, we’ve often been made to discover innovative ways to browse around them so as to remain competitive. The Mars Orbiter Mission is an instance in point. To be able to overcome technological shortcomings and operate on a record-low budget, ISRO utilized the Hohmann transfer orbit method, better called the “slingshot” method, in which the Mangalyaan was forced to orbit around the Earth six times to collect the pace to be catapulted towards Mars.
ISRO has made international headlines a few times with their successful deployment and implementation of such missions, led by a gifted and innovative pool of engineers and scientists. I see no reason why India can not at least piggyback with this revolution in the US and the world, or even to establish companies rivalling SpaceX, to change the country into a hub for research.
SpaceX is only the beginning, and we can expect to see a huge industry for space exploration to bloom in another few decades, from colonisation of planets to drilling asteroids and everything in between. There is time for India to do it in spearheading a few of these innovations and become important players in the space market.
The debate that space travel or exploration is a niche market in India doesn’t hold, since it’s a truly international market that transcends geographic and national boundaries. Innovation in this industry cannot be equated to the likes of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix or Uber. It is not hard to imagine why those firms 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 customer and then tweaked to suit the tastes and practices of other markets.
Innovation in space is not subject to standard business practices. You are constructing a product not for a single market, but for humanity as a whole. This is essential because innovation could stem from any part of the Earth, it can arise from within India itself. Our talented pool of aeronautical and aerospace scientists and engineers have the capacity to attract global capital and lead innovation without having to compete with Silicon Valley, since they have to cater to global demand rather than the Indian market especially.
The platform is already set for India to take advantage of this burgeoning market — ISRO has an intriguing space application, several Indian start-ups are trying to penetrate this market, and for the very first time, the private sector is poised to lead efforts in space exploration and travel. India has the capability to take charge in conquering this final frontier and compete with the US, as well as overtake China and Russia since we have a far stronger private sector compared to the latter two.
Since coders and IT men slowly get replaced with artificial intelligence, the space industry could very well end up being the next revolution to re-energise services, manufacturing and employment in the country.