India’s Space Station Aspirations: Worth the Weight in Gold or a Cosmic Mirage?

The plans and budgets of other countries to build their space stations must be understood.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

In 2035, India intends to launch a space station – Bharatiya Antariksha Station, which will present several challenges. There is a possibility that the most major obstacle is the financial component and if it is worth it. India must secure considerable funding to construct a space station. 

The Indian Scientific community has persistently called to increase the budgetary allocations given to the department to encourage the pursuit of larger missions. Since the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), well-known for its frugal space engineering, is not fit for manned projects, India’s space missions have been allowed to drag on for longer. Taking the Mars Orbiter journey as an example, it took the ISRO about 1000 days to reach the planet it was planned to visit. On the other hand, it is projected that a quick Mars journey of 245 days, which is approximately eight months, may be conceivable. Understanding other nations’ costs to construct their space stations is paramount.

An orbital station aims to undertake various scientific and research experiments, observations of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, and studies of outer space. An orbital station is a spaceship designed for a rotating crew’s extended stay in low Earth orbit. The crews and vital supplies required for the station’s operation are transported by both manned and unmanned spacecraft. These supplies include fuel, technical system materials, equipment to replace malfunctioning components, life support systems for the crew, and other essential commodities.

It is now common knowledge that Russia, which succeeded the Soviet Union, the United States of America, the European Union, Japan, and China, have all gained experience in the construction of a variety of human orbital space stations. The fact that Europe and Japan have contributed modules to the International Space Station (ISS) rather than creating their own independent stations should be considered.

The list of space stations includes the Salyut Series, which includes stations 1 through 7 (Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian astronaut, was aboard the Salyut 7 for a total of seven days, twenty-one hours, and forty minutes), Mir from the Soviet Union, Skylab from the United States, the ISS, a multi-country space station, and Tiangong-1 from China.

It would be an understatement to say that the technologies that are used for space exploration are not inexpensive and only sometimes pay off immediately, if they pay off at all.

Although it is not equivalent in relevance and effects, the ISS is, without a doubt, the most expensive space project. Estimates from experts indicate that the cost of constructing and keeping the station in operating shape is already close to or has even surpassed $150 billion. In a report published by Reuters in 2017, the overall cost of the ISS was estimated to be $100 billion. This is the case according to the approximate estimates. The cost of ISS fits in no previous paradigm. On the other hand, the United States of America only spent $3 billion on the Skylab orbital station, whereas the Soviet Union spent $4.1 billion on the Mir station.

It is anticipated that “Tiangong-1” will outperform ISS in terms of information, energy, power technology, and the efficiency of its operational costs.

Notably, a story published in the New York Times in 2022 stated that the total construction cost of the “Tiangong” project did not exceed $8 billion. In contrast, NASA’s annual expenditures on the space station programme amount to three billion dollars.

However, even if Tiangong were to be expanded, it would only be slightly more than a third of the mass of the ISS, which weighs approximately 450 metric tonnes.

Recent suggestions by the Russian government mention the development of a Russian orbital station. During the “Army-2022” forum in July 2022, Roscosmos presented a model to the public. Based on the information provided by Interfax, the preliminary cost estimate for constructing the new space station is 600 billion rubles, equivalent to around $8 billion. After the detailed design work is completed, the exact amount will be released to the public.

New Space Stations

At the beginning of the 1990s, Russia proposed to the United States to collaborate with them to construct an orbital station. This was because even the most powerful space nations lacked the resources to carry out such a massive undertaking. Currently, 23 countries are taking part in the initiative, with Japan, the United States of America, the European Union, and Russia in prominent positions.

The project, on the other hand, is subject to continual criticism. Even though the building and maintenance of the station cost, and continues to cost, enormous sums of money, many people think that the outcomes of the research do not bring about sufficient tangible benefits. The ISS advocates point out that not every initiative should result in immediate economic rewards. In times of a great future when humanity grows confined on Earth, there is no need to discuss the benefits of experiencing the ISS. The research being conducted at the station promises earthly advances in biotechnology and medicine.

Nations are unwilling to give up on creating new space stations. Russia has already declared its next space station. Lunar Gateway, a multi national effort, is a new space station that NASA is considering launching. NASA is also assisting several private companies in building space stations. 2020 saw one of those businesses, Axiom Space, get a NASA contract to build up to four modules that might attach to the ISS as early as 2025. After the ISS deorbits, it can subsequently separate to orbit freely. In 2021, NASA revealed that it provided $415 million to Northrop Grumman, Blue Origin, and NanoRacks to construct their commercial space stations in low-Earth orbit. By 2030, all of those are expected to be prepared for occupancy. After the ISS is retired in 2031, NASA is supposed to be able to rent space on one or more of these stations. The station owners can also assist other clients interested in accessing space.

At least four nations, including the United States of America, Russia, India, and Japan, have all indicated that they are interested in possibly constructing their very own space stations in the near future. China intends to expand its existing space station. Several countries, including Canada, Brazil, Germany, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Australia, the Netherlands, and Belgium, have communicated their intention to take part in the construction of a space station. 

The cost of creating and operating a space station is substantial, and many countries will have to evaluate the advantages of having their own space station against the costs. However, the potential benefits of space exploration are significant, and more countries are expected to establish their own space stations in the future.


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