On the Independence Day address to the nation in 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would launch a manned mission to orbit using indigenous resources. This was the Gaganyaan Project. The plan is to launch a manned orbiter into an orbit 400km in altitude with a crew of three vyomnauts (astronauts) by 2022.
This project started its life as the Orbital Vehicle project back in 2006. The idea was for a vehicle carrying two astronauts as crew, a week of endurance in the orbit and a reentry splashdown capability. In 2007 ISRO launched the Space Capsule Recovery Experiment to test their capability to recovering an orbiting space capsule and its related technologies. The design for the orbiter vehicle was finalized in 2008 and funding for the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme was sanctioned in early 2009. However it was evident from the outset that the political will was just not there. Funding fell short in 2012 and the program was on the verge of shutdown in 2013.
However in 2014, interest was renewed in the project and early that year, substantial budget increase was earmarked by the Government of India. In 2017, a final push was given to the government and what you can see now is the result of this.
The aim of the project is to launch a crew of three vyomnauts to low earth orbit for 7 days and return to a pre-designated area. Former Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) G. Madhavan Nair expressed his confidence in an address to the press:
“Gaganyaan is going to be a major turning point and technologically all the ISRO centres are going to have big challenges before them…huge benefits to the country”
The plan is to launch two unmanned missions in December 2020 and June-July 2021. The actual launch is scheduled for 2022 with technical training for the astronauts being provided by Russia and space habitation technologies from France. The rest of the technologies including the orbiter and the launch vehicle are going to be Indian.
Work on many underlying technologies was already underway when the Government of India approved a budget of ₹ 9023 crore for ISRO. The Crew Escape Module (which will carry down the astronauts and splash off the coast of Gujarat) has been under development for some time and so is the space suit which will be sourced from Vadodara. The parachutes of the descent phase have already been tested.
The Government of India signed a Memorandum of Understanding with France to get assistance in space medicine, astronaut health monitoring, life support, radiation protection, space debris protection and personal hygiene systems. We have also sought assistance from the Russians for training the astronauts in space operations and some critical components of the space capsule.
The astronauts are being selected from the Indian Air Force and will be subjected to a series of stringent tests to ascertain their physical and mental health before being trained. As of now, the first phase of selection is done and 25 candidates have been shortlisted. Among them is Wing Commander Nikhil Rath of Bolangir, Odisha.
In January of this year, ISRO Chairman K. Sivan announced that the Human Space Flight Center would be established close to Bengaluru to concentrate the project’s efforts in one location. HSFC and Glavcosmos, a subsidiary of the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos signed an agreement for cooperation in selection, support, medical examination and space training of Indian astronauts.
There are many indirect benefits to having a space programme and India has already reaped the benefits of its space launch capability in full. Industrial technologies have advanced by leaps and bounds by the research required for such projects. We now send satellites from other countries along with our own that gives us both profit and prestige.
With the Gaganyaan project India will become the fourth country in the world after the USA, Russia and China to launch a manned spaceflight mission. The last Indian citizen to go to space was Rakesh Sharma in 1984 abroad the Russian Soyuz shuttle. There have been astronauts of Indian origin (Kalpana Chawla) as well but this is the first mission to be launched by India itself on Indian soil.
This project is set to provide employment to over 15000 people engaged in fabrication of various bits and pieces all over the country. It would also serve as a excellent vehicle to spur on technological development via interactions with foreign experts.
The Gaganyaan project is not only a vehicle for increasing our national prestige but is also going to have long term positive impact on the Indian economy. It is poised to bring in a new era of international cooperation as well as stand as a testament of India’s technical prowess.
In addition if Nikhil Rath gets selected into the final three, it will be feather in the cap of Odisha for giving birth to such a prodigious son.
We hope with all our heart that he does get the spot. Thank you for reading this long rambling post and please check ot the other post we have in blog.