A delay in the planned 2013 launch of the Chandrayaan-2 moon mission could set India back in an unofficial space race with rivals China and Japan, even as both are independently planning near-identical missions that year.
All three are scheduled to launch their first soft-landing moon missions — aimed at unravelling the mineral wealth of the moon surface — in 2013, and a delay could hurt India, space policy makers and scientists have said.
The concerns come in the aftermath of the spectacular failure of the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Christmas day that has triggered fears about India's ability to meet its 2013 timeline for the Chandrayaan-2 mission.
Though the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) officially maintains that Saturday's GSLV-F06 failure is not a setback to the plans for a 2013 Chandrayaan-2 launch, scientists and officials in private admit "anything is possible."
Only after a thorough analysis of the reasons for the failure, rectification of the problems and adequate tests can the GSLV be declared ready for the Chandrayaan-2 mission. As reported by HT yesterday, Isro is sticking with the GSLV to propel the second leg of India's moon mission.
"We may meet the 2013 deadline, we may not. It is too early to say," an Isro scientist said.
But a delay could hurt India's strategic space ambitions, because it could allow China and Japan to steal a march in research on the Moon's minerals and other offerings, sources said. "We never officially say so, but India, Japan and China are competing in Asia for the moon's secrets and how they can be of benefit," a government source said.
China's Lunar Exploration Programme — known as the Chang'e programme — is set to launch the Chang'e-3 while Japan plans to launch the Selene-2 in 2013. Both represent the first soft-landing moon missions of their countries.