The Union Cabinet Friday approved the Gaganyaan project under which a three-member crew will be sent to space for at least seven days. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made this historic announcement on Independence Day this year from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi. Gaganyaan Project – as the mission is popularly called – aims at sending three astronauts into outer space for a period of at least a week by 2022.
What is the Gaganyaan project?
The Gaganyaan project is a manned space mission which is distinct from previous space missions by Indian Space Research Agency (ISRO) because no other mission has involved sending astronauts in an indigenously built spacecraft. The project shall be completed at an estimated cost of Rs 10,000 crores.
In terms of complexity and ambition, even the missions to the Moon (Chandrayaan) and Mars (Mangalyaan) are not considered to be as complex as a manned mission. This is primarily because such manned missions involve the ability to bring back the astronauts to a pre-determined landing ground. The mission also involves the simulation of Earth-like conditions in space.
Ever since Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian cosmonaut to be sent into outer space in 1984, there have been Indian astronauts who have ventured into space but with spacecraft provided by space agencies of other countries. Sharma, himself went to space on a Soviet spacecraft called Soyuz T11. The spacecraft led him to a space station called Salyut 7.
History and challenges of ISRO’s manned mission
While preparations for sending the first Indian astronaut via an Indian spacecraft have been going ever since ISRO Policy Planning Committee envisaged the idea, the Cabinet approval that came on Friday afternoon was the first official step that concretised the timeline of the Gaganyaan Project.
The major challenge for the space agency happens to be the development of a launch vehicle that can carry heavy payloads into outer space. Any spacecraft that aims at carrying human beings into outer space has to have the extra payload of five to six tonnes. ISRO’s primary launch vehicle- Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) which has successfully carried Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan missions in the past can merely carry payloads weighing a maximum of two tonnes. Thus arose the need for the development of GSLV Mk-III.
After 30 years of efforts, mainly aimed at developing an indigenous cryogenic engine to power the rocket, ISRO successfully tested GSLV Mk-III, now called LVM-3 (Launch Vehicle Mark-3), in an experimental flight in December 2014. Then, in June last year, ISRO successfully launched the first “developmental” flight of LVM-3, which carried the GSAT-19 satellite into space.