Dr. Namrata Goswami is an author, professor and consultant specializing in space policy, international relations and ethnic identity. She teaches at the Joint Special Forces University, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Arizona State University, and is a consultant for Space Fund Intelligence. She is a guest lecturer at Emory University for seminars on Technology, Society & Governance and India today. She was awarded the Minerva grant by the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense to study great power competition in outer space. In April 2019, Dr. Goswami testified before the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission on China’s space program. Her co-authored book, Scramble for the Skies: The Great Power Competition to Control the Resources of Outer Space was published in 2020 by Lexington Press; Rowman and Littlefield. She has been published widely, including in The Diplomat, the Economic Times, The Washington Post, Ad Astra, Asia Policy, Live Encounters Magazine, Cairo Review. She was invited in November 2019 to share about her life and her work at a Tedx event held at the Rosa Parks Museum, Montgomery, Alabama. She has appeared on CNN, BBC, Deutsch Welle, France24, and Channel 4, to share her research on space policy. She is currently working on two academic book projects, one on China’s Grand Strategy and Notions of Territoriality and the other on Spacepower Theory and Practice: Case Studies of U.S. China, India, Russia and Japan. 

Where do you see the most exciting research/debates happening in your field?

The field that I specialize in is International Relations, with a specific focus on space policy, grand strategy, strategic culture and identity issues. The most exciting and necessary debates in the field of International Relations focus around ways to broaden its ontology and epistemology. This implies that the kind of methods we use to study reality is broadening, to include both quantitative and qualitative methods and processes but also, more importantly, multidisciplinary approaches to understand how states and their societies have evolved over history and what the future entails. International Relations theories like realism, liberalism, constructivism, and critical theory have interesting insights into how, for instance, even an issue like space norms is being conceptualized. It is useful to engage in such debates as it tells you, without doubt, how our belief systems and educational training affect how we perceive the world and our meaning in it. I find it exciting that through my engagement and study of space policy, geopolitics and International Relations, I am able to contribute to the debate by pointing out that the strategic cultures and grand strategic positioning of a particular nation/state/society affect how space policy is conceptualized, which space mission is prioritized over others, and why that is the case. 

Such deep, diverse engagements are useful because it makes us aware that International Relations as a discipline originated in the West, and Western scholarship tends to dominate the language, methods, and theoretical frameworks that are utilized. Drawing on works from Asia, Africa, and Latin America broadens the discipline and makes it truly inclusive. 

Specifically in regard to space policy, the debates that are animating the field are between those who are space advocates who would want to see humanity become multiplanetary, and those who assume a normative position that humanity should not be allowed to expand into space, given their destructive impact on Earth. This debate is both philosophical and consequential, as it is a clear dividing line between those who believe human nature can change for the better and others who argue that human behavior is selfish and incapable of change. This is a critical research area as it enables the study of space policy, space technology, belief systems, and philosophical orientations as well as a country’s grand vision. More critically, it evaluates who decides what a society should develop, in terms of policy, technology, regulations. The debate around space norms and regulatory frameworks is another vital area in my field. While the 1960s and 1970s witnessed the development of several space treaties to include the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 that ensured that no nation can claim sovereignty in space, treaties are only reflective of the times they were constructed in. As a result, the impact of the Cold War and the fear that either the United States or the Soviet Union might place Weapons of Mass Destruction in space, or either might claim territory (for instance on the Moon), resulted in the world being bequeathed the Outer Space Treaty. The 1960s and 1970s did not anticipate the kind of space development we see today; national satellite constellations, satellite-based communications, e-commerce, navigation, satellite internet, vital for the kind of modern economies we have developed, as well as missions to the Moon that envision the capability to harness the resources of the Moon for economic benefit. These changes in thinking and policy focus, expanding possibilities of economic development from space, and occurrences of nations building space programs for economic and societal benefits, have resulted in new space organizations and the development of a massive private space sector — a completely different world from what our parents’ generation witnessed in the 1960s and 1970s.  

How has the way you understand the world changed over time, and what (or who) prompted the most significant shifts in your thinking?

I strive to be objective and fact-driven when making a particular argument or testing a particular theory. The study of human behavior which includes state behavior and societal undertakings is a subjective enterprise, so keeping ones focus in research closest to reality, to the extent possible, is useful, and can have a deep impact in your field. This shift in thinking occurred when I started working on policy issues, especially decisions of life and death in trying to make sense of armed ethnic conflicts in Northeast India. I was very theory driven during my graduate program, but when I took my research hypotheses and methods to the conflict affected areas, I was shocked at how such theoretical frameworks sometimes did not explain the ground reality at all. I realized then that the most critical thing to strive for in my work was to find that meeting point between theory and practice, if you want your work to have an impact on society and be meaningful in your own life. I strive to achieve that in my work on space policy now. I utilize fact-based methodology which includes field work, for example, to analyze and explain the American, Chinese and Indian space programs. 

The shift in my thinking occurred due to my interactions across the world, from Mongolia to the remotest areas of Northeast India, Burma, Nepal, New Zealand, China, Malta, and Malaysia, where everyday interactions taught me lessons of broad-basing my research, understanding the strategic culture and grand strategy of other nations, and realizing that there is a tendency to mirror image. That others behave and/or are motivated by the exact same things we are. An example of such mirror imaging is the American centric discourses on the issue of space debris, be it from the advocates of space debris removal or American policy-makers’ perspective on the subject.  There is this assumption, albeit with good intentions, amongst advocates and/or policy makers that what they want to create in terms of norms and rules around space debris removal is what everyone else in the world agrees on, and then a tendency to take up a morally righteous position about genuine disagreements around space debris policy and norms. This kind of realization that there are diverse perspectives on an issue is especially important to acknowledge, if we are to build theoretical frameworks and create a sustainable, globally informed space policy analysis. Space is a global enterprise and no one’s sovereign territory. And hence the discourse and debates around space has to be inclusive, diverse, and rich, as well as adaptable. 

The recent success of India’s pioneering lunar mission to the Moon’s south pole, Chandrayaan-3, was a significant feat and the first of its kind. How significant is this achievement for the Indian space programme on the world stage?

India’s Chandrayaan-3 has deep seated significance across three critical dimensions. First, India became the first nation to land closest to the south pole of the Moon, in the Moon’s southern hemisphere. The Moon’s South Pole is vital as it consists of resources like lunar water ice, titanium, aluminium, iron ore, sulphur, and magnesium, to name a few. Landing on the southern hemisphere of the Moon, close to the South Pole, is not easy, given that this region is not well mapped and has lot of craters. Successfully demonstrating a soft landing that requires all your systems to work, including camera, propulsion, and braking, is a major feat and propels India into the status of a major space power. It also improves its standing on the global stage, being one of only three other nations that have landed on the Moon (the U.S, the U.S.S.R. and China). 

Second, Chandrayaan-3 was focused on studying the Lunar South for resources mentioned above. This makes this mission unique as it adds to the data on what is available on the Lunar South Pole, data that has been collected since the U.S.-initiated Artemis signatory nations began to focus on developing a permanent lunar presence and studying the feasibility of lunar resource utilization.  India is one of the signatories of the Artemis Accords.

Third, Chandrayaan-3 was a practical mission and took a longer route to the Moon in order to save fuel, and yet demonstrated capabilities like soft landing, sending out a Lunar rover, and communicating back to Earth utilizing the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter. This showed the building of an end-to-end space capacity that can support future missions to include human habitation.                  

The low cost of Chandrayaan-3 has been the topic of some discussion, requiring only a fraction of the budget used by leading space agencies like NASA. How does the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) make such a low budget feasible, and does their recent success warrant a budgetary increase?

The Chandrayaan-3 mission was based on a low-cost budget for several reasons. First, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chose practical missions that demonstrated the technology to get to the Moon and soft land, and could be launched on Indian medium lift rockets like the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (LVM3) that can lift about 8 tonnes to Low Earth Orbit and 4 tonnes to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit. 

Second, the low weight of the mission meant that less fuel was required, which brings down cost of the mission. Taking a longer route to the Moon, unlike the Russian Luna 25 that took a direct route, also brought costs down. A direct transfer requires more fuel than multiple gravity assist maneuvers, each of which uses Earth’s gravity to sling shot to successively higher orbits, each time getting closer to the Moon. That’s what the Chandrayaan 3 did to get to the Lunar Orbit, resulting in a lesser fuel, low cost mission. 

Third, the budget for ISRO is helped by the fact that the cost of retention of space scientists and engineers, and the cost of manufacturing, is low in India. For instance, the annual salary of an ISRO scientist and engineer ranges between $10,200 to $20,500 approximately, compared to $55,373 to $146,570 for NASA scientists and engineers. This difference factors into the low cost of missions. Moreover, manufacturing rocket and satellite hardware is cheaper in India than the U.S. 

A weakness of India’s space program is the absence of a heavy lift rocket and reusable space crafts. The absence of heavy lift rockets means that India has to design its missions around its launch system lift capability. This does not undermine the technology, as smaller demonstrations are as valid as a bigger mission because both would require precise landing, propulsion and braking systems, as in the case a lunar landing. However, with ambitions for a human mission, the budget for building a heavy lift rocket should be increased. 

The success of Chandrayaan-3 has led to some suggestions that countries like the UK should stop providing foreign aid to India if the latter can afford to invest in its own space programme. Are there tangible ties between foreign aid and expenditure on space programmes, and what are some of the other dynamics at play?

There is no connection between a country’s space program and the foreign aid it might receive for other programs. The U.K journalists who made these claims seems to misunderstand how foreign policy and aid policy works. It’s not only the country receiving the aid that benefits; the country dispensing the aid does it to accrue strategic benefits for itself. For instance, a statistic issued by the Department of Business and Trade of the United Kingdom specified that, leading to the first quarter of 2023, trade between the U.K. and India amounted to £36.3 billion. The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from the U.K. to India for 2021 was “£9.3 billion accounting for 0.5% of the total UK inward FDI stock”. Moreover, what is puzzling to me is that these statements and social media claims about UK foreign aid to India is contradicted by a UK Foreign Office spokesperson who specified in March 2023 that “Since 2015 the UK has given no financial aid to the government of India. Most of our funding now is focused on business investments which help create new markets and jobs for the UK, as well as India. UK investments are also helping tackle shared challenges such as climate change.” Therefore, this ‘aid’ is really FDI in India, which amounts to 0.5 per cent of total UK FDI stock. FDI by the UK in India is ultimately centered on the goal of the UK making money from such investments.

In a recent article, you suggest that “India’s grand strategy informs its space behaviour.” Today, it is known to have one of the largest space programmes in the world, and has certainly obtained large-scale success. Where do you see the Indian space programme going in the next decade and more?

In the next two decades, India will be building its lunar capability both independently, and in collaboration between Artemis Signatories that aims to send humans to the Moon and establish a permanent presence on the Moon. India and Japan will be launching to the Lunar South Pole in 2026, this time to scale the Lunar surface for water ice, vital for human habitation and building a base. India and the U.S. have signed a strategic human spaceflight program to build India’s human mission, as well as to train Indian astronauts in the Johnson space center in Houston, Texas. So, for India, being able to launch its Gaganyaan human mission to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is going to be critical. India and the U.S. are planning to launch a joint mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024. India is also planning a mission to Venus and a second mission to Mars. 

As for space technology, India is investing in a heavy lift rocket and reusable technology in the next decade. India will be developing its own space station in Low Earth Orbit and a national satellite constellation. Heavy lift is vital for upscaling future missions. As for military space, India is developing more military satellites for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting, working on non-kinetic anti-satellite technology like jamming and dazzling, and also planning to issue a military space doctrine. 

You also recently wrote about the new regulatory developments in India that now allow for private sector involvement in space systems manufacturing and space resource extraction. In the age of SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, do you see the increasing private sector involvement diminishing the relevance of government space programmes in the future?

Yes. While the government funded space programs will form a basis for Research and Development, the manufacturing of rockets, satellites, and landing systems will be increasingly outsourced to the private sector to bring down costs and draw more young talent to the field of space technology, policy and law. However, governments will continue to play a vital role in setting space policies, identifying their space priorities, and funding, and even more so in regulating the private space sector, since under the Outer Space Treaty obligations, states are responsible for their private sector space activities. 

What is the most important advice you could give to young scholars of International Relations?

Choose a topic/issue/field that animates your passion and find your voice. Be confident to add your voice and perspective to the field of International Relations. Work hard to build expertise. Publish your work for wide dissemination. Know your facts and think carefully before you adopt a particular theoretical framework, not because it is popular but because it has the strongest explanatory power about an issue in the real world. In my work and research, since my Ph.D. days, I adopted an interdisciplinary approach. So, while I specialized in International Relations, I was motivated to learn from other disciplines and use that in my work. This attitude has served me well as I study and research space policy, space technology and its interconnections to International Relations. To understand space capacity to inform my space policy analysis, I had to learn about orbital mechanics, how rockets work, why the Moon is more advantageous than the Earth as a launch platform, and that the Sun in our solar system will die in a billion years. So, my advice to young scholars of International Relations is: super specialize, but be open to insights from fields farthest away from your discipline. And be willing to challenge your own assumptions when faced with good evidence to the contrary. 

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