One well-established space power is India, whose space program has been active for several decades. Astrobiology, on the other hand, is an area of space science that is growing in prominence. What is happening in India with regards to astrobiology research? To learn more, we spoke to Siddharth Pandey, the Head of the Centre of Excellence in Astrobiology at Amity University Mumbai. He shares what the Centre is doing, why he’s involved with it, and what some opportunities are in India’s space ecosystem.
What is the Amity Centre of Excellence in Astrobiology (ACoeA), and what is your role in it?
The Amity Centre of Excellence in Astrobiology, called ACoeA (pronounced “aqua”) for short, was established in February 2019. The aim is to have an integrated center in India that focuses on all pursuits that study the origin of life and its evolution and distribution on Earth and in the universe. ACoeA is a natural outcome from the continued research and education efforts of the Amity Education Group since August 2016 to support astrobiology work in India. The Centre, in partnership with national and international labs, currently leads astrobiology-focused field studies and simulations with a focus on understanding the habitability potential of regions on Mars. The Centre is also involved in the development of biology experiments in the upper atmosphere and low Earth orbit (LEO). The Centre introduces undergraduate and graduate students to astrobiology research and undertakes citizen-driven space exploration projects.
My role has been to help envision and start the Centre with support and guidance from Amity University leadership and research colleagues across the world. I help manage the ongoing research projects. Our team is building an education curriculum for astrobiology in India.
How does what you’re doing at ACoeA build off your previous work?
Aside from my education in space engineering, I have been involved in various technology development projects for astrobiology goals. These projects have involved extreme environments on Earth, as well as missions to Mars and Venus. Establishing India’s first astrobiology Centre builds off this previous work. My objective with ACoeA is to nurture and sustain astrobiology studies in India.
For people interested in India’s space ecosystem, what do you think some opportunities and potential areas for future growth are?
There are various opportunities that can be discussed. Launch opportunities for suborbital and orbital flights is one interesting area. Another is onboard microgravity experiments. Two Indian satellites, Astrosat and Chandrayaan-2, provide a wealth of data to analyze. There are also ongoing Mars analog studies in various parts of India, including in Ladakh, Kutch, and Lonar Crater.