To the cries of joy and applause of an entire nation, the Indian space program made history on August 23. At 6:04 p.m., the Chandrayaan-3 probe landed near the South Pole of the Moon. No other country had until then managed to land on the dark side of this star: a source of immense pride among the Indians.
This scientific and technological feat represents a “major geopolitical step” for India, writes Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center. The symbol is very strong for a country which presents itself as a superpower in the making. India is only the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the Moon, after the United States, the USSR and China.
A success which contrasts with the flop of Russia
New Delhi and Moscow, historic partners on Earth, were in competition. But the Indian mission, whose cost does not exceed 69 million euros, succeeded where its Russian rival had failed a few days earlier. “India has demonstrated that it possesses complex and sophisticated space capabilities, while Russia, considered a great power in this area, has suffered a failure,” underlines Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan of the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank in New Delhi.
Indian leaders dream of a multipolar world in which New Delhi would have a central role and where they would be the voice of the countries of the South. The space is entirely part of this design. “India used its space capacity to serve its regional diplomacy during the launch of the South Asia satellite [NDLR : de communication et météorologie, lancé en 2017] and presents it as a vector for deeper partnerships with Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia”, illustrates Namrata Goswami, professor of space policy at Arizona State University.
The day after August 23, posters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi alongside the small lunar landing module Vikram abounded in the Indian capital. With this slogan: “A first for India, a first for humanity”. The Hindu nationalist did not miss the opportunity to personalize the feat, shortly before hosting the G20 summit in New Delhi (September 9 and 10), another episode of this “Indian moment” which saw India become the most populous nation in the world, win for the first time in its history a gold medal at the world athletics championships (in javelin throwing) and place one of its own in the final of the World Cup. ‘chess.
Born in 1969, its space program has a relatively modest budget, but excels in “frugal” engineering. Chandrayaan-3 explored the Moon’s shadowed surface for two weeks and detected aluminum, iron ore, magnesium, silicon and even water ice. It is on this part of the Moon that future bases will be installed to continue the exploration of space. “India is now in a position to reach another celestial body and land there,” judges Namrata Goswami.
The competition for space also reflects new geopolitical divides. India, which has moved closer to Washington in recent years, is a signatory to the Artemis agreements, a project orchestrated by the United States to send a manned mission to the Moon. Opposite, China and Russia are collaborating within the international lunar research station. But the success of Chandrayaan-3 “means that the signatories of Artemis now have the capacity to land on the South Pole of the Moon and have the advantage of the first mover, estimates Namrata Goswami. Another consequence, “India is now a space power capable of competing with China, and this also has implications in the border conflict between the two giants in the Himalayas,” continues this expert.
Driven by its dynamics, India launched its first solar mission on September 2, and should organize an expedition to Venus in collaboration with France. The first Indian manned flight is planned for next year, the year of general elections in India, where Narendra Modi will seek a third term. There is no doubt that he will use it to make his star shine…