ISRO: The agency is looking to send the first of the unmanned missions to space by December this year, but the two waves of the coronavirus pandemic have made it difficult for ISRO.
ISRO Gaganyaan mission: India has been looking forward to its human spaceflight mission Gaganyaan for a few years now, and it is a race against time for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to launch the first uncrewed mission in December amid disrupted hardware delivery schedules due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gaganyaan is a prestigious mission under which India would send astronauts to space on an indigenous launch vehicle and bring them back safely to Earth to demonstrate its capability to do so, and it would place India among a very elite group of countries as it would become the fourth country after the USSR/Russia, the US and China to launch a crewed mission.
However, before ISRO can launch the actual crewed mission to low Earth orbit, it needs to send two unmanned missions to test the end-to-end functioning of the mission and zero-in on any problem areas. The agency is looking to send the first of the unmanned missions to space by December this year, but the two waves of the coronavirus pandemic have made it difficult for ISRO.
According to a report by news agency PTI, ISRO officials said that the first as well as the second waves of COVID-19 have impacted the Gaganyaan programme severely, considering the fact that the agency is procuring hardware elements for the mission from the industry. The lockdowns imposed over the past year and a half across different parts of the country during different time periods impacted the delivery schedules of these elements, they said. ISRO is looking after the design, analysis and documentation of the mission, the report cited an official as saying.
Back in February, Union Minister of State with Independent Charge of Space Jitendra Singh said that the agency was targeting December 2021 for the launch of the first unmanned mission of Gaganyaan, while the second uncrewed test launch would take place in 2022-23, as per current timeline. After the completion of that, India would launch Gaganyaan for human spaceflight demonstration.
So far, four astronaut candidates from India have undergone generic training for spaceflight in Russia for the mission, and the agency has zeroed-in on GSLV Mk III as the launcher for Gaganyaan.
The mission had officially been announced for the first time on Independence Day in 2018 by PM Narendra Modi during his address, with the initial aim being the launch of the mission before India reached its 75th Independence anniversary in 2022. However, considering the fact that the pandemic has led to the loss of critical time for at least one year, the agency is now expecting some delay in the actual launch, even as the agency personnel are putting in additional work and hours to carry out the mission as soon as possible.
However, a positive note for the agency is that most of the activities related to the mission are completed by now since the project was under works for a decade already by the time the formal announcement had been made. The agency has also sought the help of US, Russian and French space agencies, the report said. ISRO is also hopeful that due to these preparations, it would not lose out on too much time, with the delay mainly being due to the closure of the industries only, as per space agency Chairman K Sivan’s statement earlier this month, when he added that he was not in a position to comment on whether the agency would be able to meet the target of August 2022 at the moment or not.