“We have achieved soft landing, India is on the Moon.”
These words by S Somnath, chief of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), will go down in the history books. This was India’s Apollo moment as Chandrayaan-3 landed on Earth’s lone natural satellite, over 3,84,400 km away.
In the annals of space exploration, 2023 will be remembered as the year the Indian space agency etched its name into history with a series of groundbreaking achievements.
From the first-ever soft landing on the Moon’s south polar region to embarking on India’s maiden solar mission, Isro not only showcased its technological prowess but also ended its long fatigue ushered by the coronavirus pandemic, successive lockdowns, and heartbreaking failures.
CONQUERING THE MOON
On August 23, 2023, India became the first nation to successfully land a spacecraft on the uncharted south polar region of the Moon with the Chandrayaan-3 mission.
This monumental feat was not just a testament to Isro’s engineering capabilities but also a beacon of inspiration for a nation that has long aspired to be among the elite in space exploration.
The lunar probe’s soft landing was a culmination of years of meticulous planning and execution, marking India as only the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the Moon, joining the ranks of the United States, the Soviet Union, and China.
Isro’s Chandrayaan-3 mission was not just about landing; it carried out technology demonstration experiments, including a hop experiment on the Vikram Lander and moving the Propulsion Module from lunar orbit to Earth orbit. The mission’s payloads made several scientific discoveries, such as confirming the presence of sulfur on the Moon and generating the first temperature-depth profile of the lunar south polar region.
But Isro’s ambitions didn’t stop at the Moon.
BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST
In a swift follow-up to the lunar success, Isro launched Aditya-L1, India’s first space-based solar observatory, less than a fortnight later. This mission is set to deepen our understanding of the Sun by studying its outermost layer, the corona, which has profound implications for space weather forecasting.
The Indian space agency took a major step in the direction of sending an Indian into space. The maiden flight test of the Gaganyaan mission showed that India was on the right track. 2023 also saw India join the ambitious Artemis Accords led by the US, which would pave the way for sharing data, findings, and resources for the Moon mission.
India has set up a target to establish its space station by 2035 and send the first India to the Moon by 2040 — an ambitious leap that would require a multi-pronged approach bringing private and state players to join hands for the mammoth effort.
Isro also opened its doors for private players in the industry in 2023 with the new space policy and providing expertise to startups in the field. While Skyroot Aerospace is working to develop an orbital-class rocket, Isro helped Agnikul Cosmos open the first private launch facility inside its compound.
The space agency also capitalised on the private launch market by sending the OneWeb satellite constellation into space. The collaboration with Microsoft, signed on January 5, to empower space-tech startups in India, further bolstered the nation’s space-tech ecosystem. Additionally, the successful autonomous landing test of the Reusable Launch Vehicle prototype (RLV-TD) marked another significant stride toward sustainable space travel.
Despite operating on a budget significantly smaller than its global counterparts, Isro’s accomplishments in 2023 have been nothing short of remarkable. The organisation has demonstrated that cost-effective space missions are not only possible but can also yield high-value scientific data and technological advancements.
EYE ON THE PRIZE
As Isro prepares for future missions, including the X-ray Polarimeter Satellite and the Gaganyaan human spaceflight program, the world watches with anticipation. The year 2023 has indeed been a landmark one for Isro, setting a new benchmark for what can be achieved through innovation, determination, and a vision that reaches beyond the stars.
As we look to the skies, Isro’s trailblazing efforts remind us that the cosmos is not just a frontier for the few but a domain of possibilities for all of humanity.
PS: There were no failed missions in 2023. Lift-off normal.