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The Modern Day Space Race


Introduction


With the onset of the last decade and the rapidly advancing technology creating a thirst to be the first to reach the moon again, Mars and beyond has constituted a new space race ; the Modern space race. However, this space race is arguably, much more threatening and complex with multiple dimensions and simultaneous races merging into the race for domination and glory associated with space. This race broadly has 2 folds, one : achieving manned missions to celestial bodies like the moon and mars, and then two : Achieving military dominance in space.

Another major difference in this newer space ‘race’ is the participation of 5 countries (China, India and Japan being additions) , not just the 2 global superpowers in the United States and Russia.


An overview


Late into the decade, the United States and NATO began militarising space. Prominently with ground-to-space weapons and space based weapons, Intelligence and logistics satellites, & Anti-satellite weapons. The United States admitted to Russia and China’s exceedingly obvious sustainable space military capability. Both Russia and China possess ground based anti-satellite systems ; however, it's notable that they initiated such plans after the United States’ active space weaponization. Diplomatically, the Russia-China space alliance has pushed for a ‘Non-First placement’ resolution, which basically means that each country commits to not being the first to put weapons of destruction in space.


On the other front of space exploration, India and China have made catastrophic bounds to align themselves with the United States and Russia. Both establish the ability to successfully navigate themselves to the Moon and Mars, with the latter achieving manned spaceflight and India projecting to carry out its own initial manned mission in late 2021/early 2022. The United States’ NASA has adopted a commercial system for space exploration with SpaceX and Boeing being the 2 primary foreseeable carriers of Astronauts from American soil. Currently, it remains dependent on Russia’s soyuz programme which launches Cosmonauts and Astronauts regularly to the International Space Station. The United States is also projected to be the first country to reach Mars in 2026 with Elon Musk’s SpaceX promising regular manned flight and subsequent colonisation of the Red planet by this decade.


Reaching the Moon & Mars


Under Trump, the United States shifted its focus from reaching Mars to establishing a continued presence on the Moon. They aim to fly humans to the Moon again by 2024 in what will be the world’s most powerful system (The SLS). While commercial companies ignored the change in interest by the US government and companies like SpaceX remained focussed on reaching Mars, Russia and China followed the global superpower.


After Russia rejected the United States’ proposal to be a part of the Artemis mission, their space chief went on to say that returning to the moon with the USA seemed to be a political object and an effort to achieve NATO presence in space. However they strived to reach the moon quicker, and more grand than the United States. Russia proceeded to form a space-political axis with China, in an effort to provide competition against NATO’s space ambitions. This however, created a contradiction to Russia’s strong alliance with India, who had become part of USA’s artemis mission. Russia and China, in early March of 2021 declared that they would jointly develop the International Lunar Research Station on the surface of the Moon by 2031, while the United States plans to launch an orbital space station gateway by just 2024. Clearly, the United States is ahead in the race to the moon.


Independently, India has also created an extra dimension in the modern space race, becoming a country to reckon with after its successful chandrayaan and mangalyaan missions. Commercial companies like SpaceX, have mainstreamed technologies like reusable rockets, and with marvels like Starship and Dragon, have proven that commercial exploration in space is viable. SpaceX is projected to go to the moon with humans by 2023, before NASA, ROSCOSMOS. ISRO or any other governmental space agency and to Mars by 2026, nearly a decade before NASAs earliest projection.


Military Dominance


They say that Space is the next frontier of scientific revolution. That with the human understanding of science, the origin of the universe and the mysteries of our galaxy, we will progress as a civilization into a new era of knowledge and prosperity. But things don't seem to be like that.There are growing signs that space is being utilized for security as the concept of the battlefield has changed with advances in technology.Technologies to address air and missile threats are a clear example of this. On March 27th, 2019, Indian PM Narendra Modi wanted the entire world to know that India was establishing itself as a major player in the Space race by launching an Indian designed ballistic missile to intercept one of their own satellites and destroy it. The motive behind this act was to let neighbouring countries with nuclear weapons let them know that India now had the ability to disable and/or destroy satellites too. Many other countries have the technology to do this too, but as the world starts to play space as a game, make it their own and own this “free territory”, political tension will rise amongst the global community. The Americans, always suspicious of Russian and Chinese motives, deploy their own war tactics, plans and ways to subvert other countries to gain a hand over them, although they have unintentionally done that in the past. As R&D is funded, technologies over the world develop and improve. The process is ongoing, as one country gains superiority others will follow suit and develop their own tactics. The race to dominate Space is eternal, and its militarisation to protect one nation’s “interests” is


Conclusion


The 2nd space race, or whatever you choose to call it, is certainly much more exciting , in what it provides to humanity. Bases and colonies on other planets will allow the human race to counter the congestion of Earth. On the other hand, with militarisation into the 4th sphere of Space, another given birth is yet another threat to humanity. With space to ground and ground-to-space and inter-space weapons in development, it seems likely that the next major world conflict will definitely involve military abilities in space. Especially after the world’s superpower in the United States of America declared the making of a ‘Space Force’ under the Air Force. The end of this contest for dominance, is sure to be determined by the nation who can achieve success both by reaching the Moon and Mars and setting up colonies and bases there, as well as ground-to-space missile capability and interspace weapons for defence. However, if a resolution like the Sino-Russian axis is hoped for is passed, then interspace weapons could be delayed for at least a decade or two.



~ Nehal Singhal

~ Amey Parekh



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