Asian ‘Space Race’ Heats-Up! China Plans 100 Satellite Launches In 2024, India Gears-Up For 1st Manned Space Voyage

The two countries of over 1.4 billion population have been jostling for influence in the world when not having stand-off over borders. India and China are gearing up to compete on a new frontier – Space.

India has revealed the identity of the four cosmonaut-designates for its first manned space mission and China is going to have two manned spaceflight missions besides 100 orbital launches.

This week, India announced 100 percent Foreign Direct Investment in its space sector, spurring its growth. At present, the Indian space economy is valued at around US $8.4 billion, with a 2 percent share in the global space economy.

It is projected to reach US $44 billion by 2033 with about 8 percent global share. And by 2040, it is expected to be a trillion-dollar industry.

Since the Indian government opened the sector for private players, 100 deep tech start-ups have sprung up. With Russia embroiled in the war in Ukraine, satellite launch services are predicted to be the fastest-growing segment in the Indian space economy, followed by satellite manufacturing.

In the last 10 years, India launched about 400 satellites, whereas 10 years before that, only 33 satellites were launched.

The first Indian human spaceflight is scheduled to be launched in 2024-25. The spacecraft will take a crew of three and orbit around the Earth before being brought back to Earth.

Revealing the identity of the four Indian Air Force pilots trained to go to space in an Indian-built spacecraft, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “By 2035, India will have its space station that will help us study the unknown expanses of space. In this period of Amrit Kaal, Indian astronauts will land on the surface of the moon on our rocket.”

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) reached for the moon with its ambitious Chandrayaan-2. It was a technological leap for the space organization.

Meanwhile, China achieved a significant milestone in space exploration by sending its first manned mission on October 15, 2003. During this historic event, the Shenzhou V spacecraft, launched by a Long March 2F rocket, carried a single astronaut named Yang Liwei into orbit.

This made China the third country to send humans into space after the US and Russia. Since then, China has taken giant strides in its manned space program with successful rendezvous and docking missions with the Tiangong-1 space station module.

In comparison to India, China’s space station is entering the normal operation stage, and within 2024, there will be two cargo spacecraft missions, two manned spaceflight missions, and two return missions.

The China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) recently unveiled the names of the new vehicles for future manned lunar exploration missions. The new manned spacecraft is named Mengzhou, which means “dream vessel.” The lunar lander is named Lanyue, which means “embracing the moon.” China plans to land its taikonauts (astronauts) on the moon before 2030.

China’s state-owned space giant China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) released the annual blue paper, which asserted that China’s space program is set to witness new milestones in 2024, with around 100 orbital launches planned. China is creating multiple satellite constellations.

China’s current Yaogan series of spy satellites allowed constant surveillance across the South China Sea, the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, Tibet, and also Galwan, where the Indian and Chinese soldiers had a deadly clash. For global navigation purposes, China is depending on a 35-satellite Beidou constellation.

According to a statement the CASC sent to the Chinese government-owned Global Times, Beijing has scheduled nearly 70 orbital launches for 2024, aiming to send some 290 spacecraft into space.

Among the missions, newly-developed Long March-6C and Long March-12 carrier rockets will execute their maiden flight missions. China’s much-anticipated Phase-4 lunar probe mission will see new progress, including the launch of the Queqiao-2 relay satellite and Chang’e-6 mission, which will bring back the first lunar sample from the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the far side of the moon.

In 2023, China executed 67 launch missions, the second highest in the world, and 221 spacecraft were developed and launched. The blue paper said it broke Chinese records for launch frequency and spacecraft quantity.

The Long March series of carrier rockets successfully launched 47 times with a perfect success rate, breaking through 500 launches cumulatively, and other commercial rockets launched 20 times.

The Next Frontier For Competition – Space

China’s space exploration has evoked considerable interest, caution, and concern from the US, which considers it a top security concern.

The US intelligence community’s annual threat assessment, published on April 13, 2021, mentions that Chinese civilian space programs, such as a future space station and a network of navigation satellites, are capabilities that China is pursuing that could be a threat to the United States.

Space technology has a dual purpose. There is apprehension that China could use civilian space programs as a cover for military advancements. For instance, a country can develop a satellite capable of conducting rendezvous and proximity operations for refueling or debris removal from space.

But the same technology can be used to attack an adversary’s satellite, degrade its orbit, or simply get close enough to have a look.

Repurposing a rocket’s second stage for commercial or scientific use has military applications such as hosting payloads or sensors.

In 2007, the Chinese space program drew international criticism after Beijing conducted an unannounced test in 2007 in which it used a missile to blow up a defunct Chinese satellite. This created debris that posed a threat to other space assets.

Chinese Space Station
File: Chinese Space Station

India also conducted its Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test on March 27, 2019.

The lower earth orbit is becoming “congested, competitive and contested.” Tiny shards of metal can pose a danger, and the number of objects is growing rampantly. In 2021, the US Space Command is now tracking more than 48,000 in near-Earth orbit, including satellites, telescopes, space stations, and pieces of debris of all sizes, up from 25,000 just three years ago.

While the doubt over China’s intent has evoked apprehension about its space program, the US signed a deal with India in 2023 to send a manned spaceship with an Indian astronaut to the International Space Station.

ISRO and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have agreed to launch a joint mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024. This could be the precursor to ISRO’s Gaganyaan (meaning spaceship) – the manned mission to space scheduled to happen by the end of 2024 or the beginning of 2025.

NASA will provide advanced training to ISRO astronauts to launch a joint mission to the ISS in 2024.

India also signed the Artemis Accords, which are a set of principles and guidelines for countries seeking to explore the moon, Mars, and beyond. The American-led effort seeks to maintain a permanent presence in the lunar orbit and on the moon’s surface, more than half a century after the Apollo missions put the first human on the moon’s surface.

China is not part of it.

The accords set up the basis for international cooperation in space exploration. The multilateral arrangement is meant to make humans “interplanetary species” as they venture onto Mars. The accord will pave the way for the 26 signatory countries to share data, technology, and resources to realize lunar exploration.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • The author can be reached at ritu.sharma (at)
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