The successful Chandrayaan-3 mission to the lunar South Pole marks India's resolute pursuit of space exploration and cements a robust partnership with the United States.
On August 23rd, 2023, India etched its name in the annals of space exploration, achieving a remarkable feat by landing on the lunar South Pole. While the Chandrayaan-3 mission could not revive its moon lander and rover, this achievement underscored India's unwavering commitment to space exploration. Chandrayaan-3, the culmination of India's third lunar expedition, transcended national boundaries. It stood not only as a technological marvel but also signified the burgeoning partnership between India and the United States in the realm of space exploration. Prominent figures, including Vice President Kamala Harris and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, lauded this accomplishment, emphasizing the bright prospects of this collaborative journey into space.
Bilateral Synergy at Play
International cooperation played a pivotal role in the success of the Chandrayaan-3 mission. The active support of the United States, the European Space Agency, and the Swedish Space Corporation exemplified the significance of global collaboration. NASA, in particular, contributed significantly by outfitting the Vikram lander with the Laser Retroreflector Array, a crucial instrument for pinpointing the lander's location. Moreover, a Joint Statement has outlined the vast expanse of this flourishing space partnership, encompassing initiatives such as the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar mission (NISAR) and the U.S.-India Civil Space and Commercial Space Working Groups. The prospect of a joint human spaceflight mission to the International Space Station in 2024 further underscores the robustness of this collaboration.
Notably, the India-US partnership extends beyond the confines of the Chandrayaan-3 mission, encompassing a spectrum of collaborative space endeavors. Earlier this year, both nations enhanced their collaboration in space exploration, focusing on human space voyages and the growing commercial space sector. Besides, significant milestones have been achieved in both Indian and US space programs, especially in advancing the private space industry. In 2022, the United States initiated the monumental Artemis program, highlighted by the launch of the Orion spacecraft on a remarkable lunar voyage. India is meticulously preparing for its upcoming Gaganyaan human spaceflight mission, marking a
pivotal chapter in its space journey. This collaborative alliance with the United States promises to equip India with invaluable expertise and advanced technology, positioning it as a major power in space exploration.
India's Bold Step with the Artemis Accords
Indian Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu, signs the Artemis Accords, as U.S. Department of State, Deputy Assistant Secretary for India, Nancy Jackson, left, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, and Indian Space Research Organization, Space Counsellor, Krunal Joshi, right, look on, Wednesday, June 21, 2023, at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington. India is the 27th country to sign the Artemis Accords, which establish a practical set of principles to guide space exploration cooperation among nations participating in NASA’s Artemis program. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.
Another milestone development in US-India space cooperation and collaboration occurred with India's bold step in signing the Artemis Accords. India's embrace of the Artemis Accords symbolized a significant shift from its traditional cautious approach towards binding international agreements and strategic ambiguity in space. Spearheaded by the United States, the Accords provide a non-binding framework to guide civil space exploration and human space activities on celestial bodies. India's alignment with these principles, particularly those concerning the responsible utilization of lunar resources, displays its commitment to progressive space exploration.
Further, as one of only four nations to successfully land on the Moon, India's participation in the Artemis Accords holds the potential to strengthen the global influence of these guiding principles, both through practical action and persuasive advocacy. This is particularly salient in the context of lunar resource utilization, an essential facet of the future of space exploration.
A Beacon of Global Collaboration
The ISRO-NASA partnership during the Chandrayaan-3 mission serves as a beacon of US-India relations, illustrating how scientific and technological collaboration can enhance diplomatic ties between nations. This partnership extends beyond lunar exploration, symbolizing a shared dedication to peaceful and progressive space exploration. Chandrayaan-3 has not just been a lunar mission; it has become a stepping-stone toward deeper cooperation and mutual understanding between India and the United States, contributing to the fortification of their relations.
Mrittika Guha Sarkar is a Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student at American University’s School of International Service. She is also an Associated Research Fellow at the Institute for Security & Development Policy (ISDP), Sweden.