India's manned mission aims to take one or more astronauts into space, up to a distance of 400 kilometres away from the earth, and could be orbiting the earth five to seven days. These are the preliminary plans, as four potential astronauts set off on a year-long training session in Russia by end-January, said ISRO's director of human spaceflight centre, Dr Unnikrishnan Nair.
Speaking to News18 on the sidelines of a three-day symposium on human spaceflight, Dr Nair said ISRO will soon be setting up simulators to give mission-specific training for the astronauts who are being trained for Gaganyaan, the manned mission to space scheduled for late 2021 or early 2022. The mission will coincide with the 75th anniversary of India's independence.
"We are going to 400kms only. That is the typical orbit for the International Space Station, and we will stay there for five to seven days, do experiments and then come back," he told News18. As announced on Wednesday, ISRO will send two unmanned missions — one in December 2020, and the second in June 2021. These two missions will carry a humanoid robot that will react to the environment in its crew capsule in outer space the same way a human would. This would help test the systems on-board to ensure it is compatible for humans to travel in, and there would be no danger.
"Except (hosting a) man or human, the unmanned mission will have everything else that is proposed in the manned mission and we will test the system and see that everything performs. There are some micro-gravity experiments too that we are shortlisting, will be sent in the unmanned flights," he told News18. The unmanned mission carrying the humanoid, named 'Vyommitra', will also travel the same distance of 400kms and stay in orbit for seven days.
Stating that hundreds of scientists and engineers are working on the project, Dr Nair said the Gaganyaan project holds exciting opportunities for students at various levels too. "There are many challenges, and there are solutions. Totally out-of-hat solutions could be provided by anybody. Because a human is going into orbit and going to stay there, whatever we do on earth, how nicely can we do the same in orbit, we need solutions. That excites the entire community," he said.
This year holds a long phase of many development flights and many tests that have to be done for the unmanned flights. Asked if a manned mission to space could be a precursor to another one to the moon, he said that this is not yet announced. For now, ISRO is only "taking the first steps". The training of astronauts will take a year, and the four short-listed potential astronauts will come back to India and then go through mission-specific training for Gaganyaan after the Russian phase of training.