Think.Nxt Shorts: 'Indian Space Programmes Need More Investment, Less Frugality'

Should India celebrate ISRO's thrifty triumphs in space? Tune in to hear Raghav Bahl's take on frugal innovations.

3 min read

In this episode of Think.Nxt Shorts, The Quint's Editor-in-Chief Raghav Bahl argued that though the achievement of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to catapult Chandrayaan-3 towards the lunar South Pole is admirable, it is not celebratory.

Why, you ask? Let's dig in.  

Contending that the United States' Apollo 11 landed a man on the Moon over half a century ago, Bahl remarked: "The US had launched Apollo 11 to the Moon in four days. Of course, they had burnt more fuel and invested more money, but this was over 50 years ago."

He added that in 2020, when China launched its lunar mission, it had landed on the Moon's surface in a week. Meanwhile, India's Chandrayaan-3 took six weeks to land on the lunar South Pole.  

Bahl explained this further by digging into the ISRO's "almost-proprietary" slingshot technology, which the space organisation has been using to launch spacecraft, including Chandrayaan-3.  


What Is Slingshot Technology?

The slingshot technology, which Bahl christened "Space Gulel", is a frugal yet efficient way of launching spacecraft and has been "perfected" by the ISRO.

This technology requires the spacecraft to revolve around the Earth in larger elliptical orbits till it reaches enough momentum to leave the Earth's gravity and be launched towards the target object in space.  

After it enters the gravitational pull of the target object – which was the Moon in Chandrayaan's case – the spacecraft makes inward maneuvers in smaller elliptical orbits until it reaches the target destination, which could be in orbit or the surface of a celestial body.

"Using the slingshot technology, the ISRO was able to land Chandrayaan-3 on the Moon at a cost of 75 million dollars, which is 25 percent lesser than the cost of popular Hollywood movies such as Avatar or Avengers!"
Raghav Bahl, Editor-in-Chief, The Quint

What Was the Need To Be Thrifty? 

In the 1950s and 1960s, when India first opened up to space exploration, it was a poor country, as it had just emerged into Independence.  

The ISRO was formed on 15 August 1969 and superseded the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR), which was set up by the Jawaharlal Nehru-led government of India in 1962, as envisioned by Dr Vikram Sarabhai. The prime objective of ISRO/DOS was and is the development and application of space technology for various national needs. 

"To top that, in 1974, when India conducted its first nuclear test at Pokhran (Operation Smiling Buddha), it faced sanctions from the western world – for instance, we were not given dual-use technologies," Bahl elucidated. 

He added that as a result, India had to come up with its own technology and it "had to be cheap."  


Can This Frugal Innovation aka 'Jugaad' Really Be Celebrated?  

Bahl contended that even though the ISRO's frugal innovation is "spectacular" and "admirable," it cannot be celebrated because it does not incorporate the value of time.  

"Using a washing machine to make lassi on a large scale or re-using plastic bottles to simulate drip irrigation are admirable frugal innovations on an individual or a small community level. In fact, these can be linked to a popular thing in India called jugaad," Bahl remarked.  

He added that the India of today is not the same as the India of the 1950s and 1960s and that frugal innovations can no longer become the foundation of India's strategic choices in something as critical as the space programme.  

"With its large economy, missile programme, space programme, and recognised nuclear power, India is an emerging global power along with the USA and China," Bahl asserted. 

He added that for India to bridge the gap between the US and China, it must invest more in its space programme as well as co-opt the private sector.  

Bahl said that India should now be judged on its ability to not only land on the Moon, but also to:

  • put a space station there,

  • put human beings there,

  • mine for minerals, and

  • to use that space station as a slingshot for further exploration into space.

Camera: Athar Rather Video Producer: Zijah Sherwai Editorial Producer: Aakriti Handa

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