India’s space ambitions food for thought

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/15 23:53:41

India on Wednesday set a new world record by successfully launching 104 satellites on a single rocket, replacing the previous record of 37 satellites launched by Russia in 2014.

This is perhaps the first widely followed world record India has made in the field of space technology. The Indians have reason to be proud.

However, the space technology race is not mainly about the number of satellites at one go. It's fair to say the significance of this achievement is limited. In this regard, Indian scientists know more than the Indian public, who are encouraged by media reports.

It's a hard-won achievement for India to reach current space technology level with a relatively small investment. It offers food for thought for other countries. India launched a lunar probe in 2008 and ranked first among Asian countries by having an unmanned rocket orbit Mars in 2013.

Nonetheless, the development of a country's space technology is determined by the size of its input. According to data released by the World Economic Forum in 2016, the US' space budget in 2013 was $39.3 billion, China $6.1 billion, Russia $5.3 billion, Japan $3.6 billion and India $1.2 billion. As India's GDP is about one-fifth to one-fourth that of China's, the share of investment in space technology in India's GDP is similar to that of China's.  

There is another figure that deserves attention. India's defense budget is about one-third of China's, a higher percentage of GDP than that of China.

New Delhi's space program is based on three considerations. The first is its ambition to make India a great power. Therefore, it's focused not only on immediate interests but long-term ones. Second, the country believes it should remain present in space technology development, given its close links with military. And third, India is under pressure to compete with China and refuses to lag behind.

India's space technology development tends to project national image. It's reported that India also plans to reach Venus, another program that is suitable for media hype but lacks follow-up research. 

On the whole, India's space technology still lags behind the US' and China's. It has not yet formed a complete system. For instance, the engine of its rockets is not powerful enough to support large-scale space exploration. There is no Indian astronaut in space and the country's plan to establish a space station has not started.

India's Achilles' Heel is its relatively small economic scale and a weak foundation for national development. As a hierarchical society, it has both world-class elite and a largest number of poor people. Many lessons can be drawn from India. As a rising power, it has done a good job. It is ambitious but pragmatic, preferring to compare with others as an incentive to progress. India's political and social philosophy is worth pondering.

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