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Indian Human Spaceflight Programme

The Indian Human Spaceflight Programme (HSP[1]) was created in 2007[2] by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to develop the technology needed to launch crewed orbital spacecraft into low Earth orbit.[3] The first crewed flight is planned with a spacecraft called Gaganyaan for December 2021[4] on a GSLV Mk-III rocket.[5][6][7]

Before Gaganyaan mission announcement in August 2018, human spaceflight was not the priority for ISRO, though most of the required capability for it had been realised.[8] ISRO had already developed most of the technologies for crewed flight and it performed a Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment and a Pad Abort Test for the mission.[9] The project will cost less than Rs. 10,000 crore.[10][11] In December 2018, the government approved further 100 billion (US$1.5 billion) for a 7-days crewed flight of 2-3 astronauts to take place in December, 2021.[4][5][12]

If completed on schedule, India will become the fourth nation to conduct independent human spaceflight after the Soviet Union/Russia, United States and China. After conducting crewed spaceflights, the agency intends to start a space station programme and possibly a crewed lunar landing.[13][14]


Prototype flight suit for crewed mission

On 9 August 2007 the then Chairman of the ISRO, G. Madhavan Nair, indicated the agency is "seriously considering" the creation of the Human Spaceflight Programme. He further indicated that within a year ISRO would report on its development of new space capsule technologies.[15] Development of a fully autonomous orbital vehicle to carry a two-member crew into low-Earth orbit (LEO) began a few months after that when the government allocated 95 crore (US$13.7 million) for pre-project initiatives for 2007 through 2008. A crewed orbital spaceflight would require about 12,400 crore (US$1.8 billion) and a period of seven years for development. The Planning Commission estimated that a budget of 5,000 crore (US$723.3 million) was required for initial work during 2007–2012 for the crewed spaceflight.[2][16] In February 2009, the Government of India authorized the human space flight programme,[17] but fell short of fully funding it or creating the programme.

The trials for crewed space missions began in 2007 with the 600 kg Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE), launched using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket, and safely returned to earth 12 days later. This followed with the Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment, and the Pad Abort Test in 2018. This enables India to develop heat-resistant materials, technology and procedures necessary for human space travel.

Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) has worked on the space food for the crew and has been conducting trials on a G-suit for astronauts as well.[18][19] A prototype called 'Advanced Crew Escape Suit' weighing 13 kg and built by Sure Safety (India) Private Limited has been tested and performance verified.[20][21][22][23]

Having shown success in all preliminary tests,[24] the decisive push for the creation of the Human Spaceflight Programme took place in 2017,[1] and it was accepted and formally announced by the Prime Minister on 15 August 2018.[25] The funding is approximately Rs 10,000 crore. The testing phase is expected to begin in December 2020 and the first crewed mission will be undertaken in December 2021.[26]

Spacecraft developmentEdit

Development schedule of Gaganyaan[27][28][29]
Flight type Proposed month & year Crew
Test Flight 1 2020 - December None
Test Flight 2 2021 - July None
Crewed 2021 - December 2-3

The first phase of this programme is to develop and fly the 3.7-ton spacecraft called Gaganyaan with capacity to carry a 3-member crew in low Earth orbit and safely return to Earth after a mission duration of a few orbits to two days. The first crewed flight is planned for December 2021.[27][30] The extendable version of the spaceship will allow flights up to seven days, rendezvous and docking capability.

In the next phase, enhancements will lead to the development of a small habitat allowing spaceflight duration of 30–40 days at once. Further advances from experience will subsequently lead to development of a space station.[31]

On October 7, 2016, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre Director K. Sivan stated that ISRO was gearing up to conduct a critical 'crew bailout test' called ISRO Pad Abort Test to see how fast and effectively the crew module could be released safely in the event of an emergency. The tests were conducted successfully on 5 July 2018 at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. This was the first of a series of tests to qualify a crew escape system technology.[32][33]

India will not use any animals for life support systems testing but robots resembling humans will be used.[34][35] ISRO is targeting more than 99.8% reliability for its crew escape system.[36]

As of August 2018, ISRO plans to launch its crewed orbiter Gaganyaan atop a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk III (GSLV Mk III).[5][6][10][11] About 16 minutes after lift-off, the rocket will inject the orbital vehicle into an orbit 300 to 400 km above Earth. The capsule would return for a splashdown in the Arabian Sea near the Gujarat coastline.[37] As of May 2019, design of crew module has been completed.[38] The spacecraft will be flown twice uncrewed for validation before conducting actual human spaceflight.[27][28][29]

Infrastructure developmentEdit

Human-Rating of GSLVEdit

Human-rating rates the system is capable of safely transporting humans. ISRO will be building and launching 2 missions to validate the human rating of the GSLV-MK III.[39] Existing launch facilities will be upgraded to enable them to carry out launches under Indian Human Spaceflight campaign.[40][41]

Escape SystemEdit

The escape system will boast of a recently included geometry. Work on parachute enlargement and new architecture are also going on.[39][42]

Astronaut trainingEdit

ISRO Chairman, K. Sivan, announced in January 2019 the creation of India's Human Space Flight Centre in Bangalore for training astronauts, also called vyomanauts (vyoma means 'space' or 'sky' in Sanskrit).[43] The 1,000 crore (US$144.7 million) centre will train the selected astronauts in rescue and recovery operations, operate in zero gravity environment, and monitoring of the radiation environment.

An astronaut training facility will be established on proposed site of 140 acres (0.57 km2) nearby Kempegowda International Airport in Devanahalli, Karnataka.[44]

In spring 2009 a full-scale mock-up of the crew capsule was built and delivered to Satish Dhawan Space Centre for training of astronauts. India will be short listing 200 Indian Air Force pilots for this purpose. The selection process would begin by the candidates having to complete an ISRO questionnaire, after which they would be subjected to physical and psychological analyses. Only 4 of the 200 applicants will be selected for the first space mission training. While two will fly, two shall act as reserve.[45][46]

ISRO signed a memorandum of understanding in 2009 with the Indian Air Force's Institute of Aerospace Medicine (IAM) to conduct preliminary research on psychological and physiological needs of crew and development of training facilities.[47][48] ISRO is also discussing an agreement with Russia regarding some aspects of astronaut training.[49][50]

ISRO's Human Space Flight Centre and Glavcosmos, which is a subsidiary of the Russian state corporation Roscosmos, signed an agreement on July 1, 2019 for cooperation in the selection, support, medical examination and space training of four Indian astronauts.[51][52] An ISRO Technical Liaison Unit (ITLU) will be setup in Moscow to facilitate the development of some key technologies and establishment of special facilities which are essential to support life in space.[53]

Till September 2019, level 1 of astronaut selection process was completed in Bengluru. Selected Test Pilots underwent physical exercise tests, lab investigations, radiological tests, clinical tests & evaluation on various facets of their psychology.[54][55]

Space foodEdit

The Mysore-based Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed dried and packaged food for astronauts. The food laboratory has developed around 70 varieties of dehydrated and processed food items that have undergone strict procedures to zero-in on micro bacterial and macro bacterial nutrients.special care has to be taken in the packing and the food item should be of limited weight but at the same time should be high in nutritional qualities.[56]

Humanoid robotsEdit

Unlike other nations that have carried out human space flights, India will not fly animals into space. Instead, it will fly humanoid robots for a better understanding of what weightlessness and radiation do to the human body during long durations in space.[57]

Experiments and objectivesEdit

On 7 November 2018, ISRO released an Announcement of Opportunity seeking proposals from the Indian science community for microgravity experiments that could be carried out during the first two robotic flights of Gaganyaan.[58][59] The scope of the experiments is not restricted, and other relevant ideas will be entertained. The proposed orbit for microgravity platform is expected to be in an Earth-bound orbit at approximately 400 km altitude. All the proposed internal and external experimental payloads will undergo thermal, vacuum and radiation tests under required temperature and pressure conditions. To carry out microgravity experiments for long duration, a satellite may be placed in orbit.

Space stationEdit

India plans to deploy a 20 tonne space station as a follow-up programme of the Gaganyaan mission. On 13 June 2019, ISRO Chief K. Sivan announced the plan, saying that India's space station will be deployed in 5-7 years. He also said that India will not join the International Space Station program. The space station would be capable of harbouring a crew for 15-20 days at a time. Final approval is expected to be given to the programme by the Indian government only after the completion of the Gaganyaan mission.[60]

ISRO is working to develop spacecraft docking and berthing technology, with an initial funding of ₹10 crore cleared in 2017.[61] A Space Docking Experiment, or SPADEX, is being worked out by ISRO with systems like signal analysis equipment, high-precision videometer for navigation, docking system electronics and real-time decision making for landing systems being developed in various stages. As part of SPADEX, ISRO will launch 2 small satellites for testing. This technology is crucial for a space station as it will enable transfer humans from one vehicle or spacecraft to another.[62]


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