India and Japan are joining forces to beat China in the Asian space race

India and Japan took their deepening natural partnership into outer space when the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) divulged that they may jointly carry out a sample-return mission to the moon.

There is a sound rationale for this even though the two countries have independent plans to go to the moon: ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 orbiter-lander-rover mission is proposed for launch in 2018 and JAXA’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) mission in 2019. They have had success in the past, too: since 2007-08, JAXA’s Selene orbiter and ISRO’s first orbiter-impactor, Chandrayaan-1, have found water on the moon, discovered lunar volcanic tubes, which could serve as sites for human habitation (pdf), and mapped the eternally dark Shackleton crater, among others. Their concern is the wide techno-economic gap with Beijing, which is playing an efficient game of catch-up with Washington. This, in turn, is affecting the geo-strategic balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, and, likewise, India’s and Japan’s security outlook.

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