India names four astronauts, three of whom will fly on its first manned mission

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India today revealed the four astronauts training for its first manned mission, dubbed Gaganyaan and targeting a launch next year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced the names of four pilots who are undergoing training for the country’s maiden human space flight mission ‘Gaganyaan’. The pilots are – Group Captain P Balakrishnan Nair, Group Captain Ajit Krishnan, Group Captain Angad Pratap, and Wing Commander S Shukla.

Though all four are training for the mission, only three will fly. The mission itself will orbit the Earth for three days. More information about each man can be found here. All have already received astronaut training in Russia.

ISRO: Upper stage engine of largest rocket now approved for Gaganyaan manned mission

India’s space agency ISRO today announced that it has completed engine tests of the upper stage engine of its LVM rocket, a variation of its GSLV rocket and its most powerful, that will be used on its Gaganyaan manned orbital mission presently scheduled for launch in 2025.

In order to qualify the CE20 engine for human rating standards, four engines have undergone 39 hot firing tests under different operating conditions for a cumulative duration of 8810 seconds against the minimum human rating qualification standard requirement of 6350 seconds.

Before the 2025 manned mission, ISRO plans four more launch abort tests (one has already taken place) and three unmanned Gaganyann orbital demo missions. Two of those unmanned demo flights are scheduled for this year.

India releases on-board camera views during its Gaganyaan launch abort test

India’s space agency ISRO today released the on-board camera views taken during its Gaganyaan launch abort test on October 21, 2023.

The test was a complete success, and the footage shows each step clearly, from launch to stage separation to deployment of parachutes.

ISRO is still targeting 2024 for the first manned Gaganyaan mission, which will carry two to three astronauts into orbit for three to seven days. To meet that target however will require a lot of fast work, as the agency intends to fly three separate unmanned orbital missions of the Gaganyaan capsule prior to putting humans in it. More likely the manned mission will happen in 2025.

Gaganyaan abort test flight flies successfully after short delay

When I went to bed last night India’s Gaganyaan abort test flight had been cancelled due to a launch abort at T-0, with the live stream ending and an expectation that engineers would need at least another day to fly.

When I woke up it turned out that ISRO behaved more like SpaceX than a government agency. It quickly figured out what was wrong, recycled the countdown, and two hours later successfully flew the test of its launch abort rescue system for its manned Gaganyaan capsule.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully executed the Test Flight Abort Mission, for the Gaganyaan mission on Saturday after the first test flight was aborted at 8:45 am due to a problem in the engine ignition. ISRO Chief S Somanth said the planned lift off the TV-D1 rocket could not happen following an anomaly that will be analysed. He said that the engine ignition of the TV-D1 rocket did not happen over time.

The space agency then said that the errors have been identified and corrected and the second launch was scheduled for 10:00 Hrs today.

And at 10 am, ISRO successfully launched the test vehicle from Sriharikota today. Chairman Somanath expressed happiness and said, “I am very happy to announce the successful accomplishment of Gaganyaan TV-D1 mission”.

The test rocket launched, the abort system separated from the rocket as planned, the capsule was released from the abort system, its parachutes then opened, and the capsule then safely splashed down in the Bay of Bengal about ten miles off the coast, where it was recovered successfully.

ISRO plans a second launch abort test prior to flying the actual manned mission, but at this moment it appears very close to being ready for a manned mission in 2024, its present goal.

India’s Gaganyaan launch abort test aborts at T-0

India’s attempt today to test the launch abort system to be used to safely propel its manned Gaganyaan capsule away from a failing rocket aborted at T-0.

They need to take the spacecraft back to the assembly building in order to figure out what went wrong, so the next attempt will likely be delayed at mininum several weeks. UPDATE: That’s what the head of ISRO said at the end of this live stream, but that is not what happened. See new post above.

India schedules Gaganyaan launch abort test for October 21st

India’s space agency ISRO has now scheduled the first unmanned launch abort test of its Gaganyaan manned capsule for October 21, 2023.

The test Crew Module (CM), according to the statement, will be akin to the pressurized module that’ll hold crew members during their ascent to space — this version, however, will be unpressurized. It will be launched via a single-stage liquid rocket specifically developed for this mission that will simulate an abort scenario; the true CM, by contrast, will ride atop a 143-foot-tall (43.5-meter) Launch Vehicle Mark-3 (LVM3) rocket with a solid stage, liquid stage and cryogenic stage. The latter recently received human safety certifications, R. Hutton, project director of the Gaganyaan mission, said during a conference last month.

At present ISRO is targeting 2024 for the first manned mission, but that target date remains very uncertain.

India successfully tests upgraded upper stage engine for manned mission

India’s space agency ISRO has now successfully completed full power static fire engine tests of a more power version of the upper stage engine used by the most powerful version of its GSLV rocket, the LVM3, thus preparing it to launch that nation’s first manned mission, dubbed Gaganyaan.

On September 22, 2023, this test was conducted at the state-of-the-art test facility located at IPRC, Mahendragiri. During this test, the CE20 engine operated at the coveted 22-tonne thrust level for a duration of 670 seconds. Both the engine and the testing facility performed flawlessly, meeting all the performance parameters.

ISRO is still targeting 2024 for the first manned mission, but that target remains somewhat uncertain, though less so as one-by-one the agency completes these performance tests successfully.

ISRO successfully tests propulsion system of Gaganyaan’s service module

India’s space agency ISRO revealed today that it has successfully completed the second phase of static fire engine tests of the complete propulsion system to be used by the service module of its Gaganyaan’s manned space capsule.

The first hot test of the Phase-2 test series demonstrated the integrated performance of the Gaganyaan Service Module Propulsion System. The test, conducted for a duration of 250 seconds, involved LAM engines firing in continuous mode, along with RCS thrusters, adhering to the test profile.

As part of the Phase-1 test series of SM SDM, ISRO had previously conducted five hot tests, totalling a duration of 2750 seconds. The earlier phase involved five 440 N LAM engines and eight 100 N RCS thrusters. For the Phase-2 test series, the current configuration includes the full configuration of five 440 N LAM engines and sixteen 100 N RCS thrusters.

ISRO had been hoping to launch the first manned mission in ’24, but that target date remains very uncertain.

Voyager Space’s space station will use India’s manned capsule as ferry

Voyager Space, which is one of three consortiums building private space stations for NASA, has now signed a deal with India to begin work that would make possible using India’s Gaganyaan manned capsule as a ferry to Voyager’s Starlab space station.

Gaganyaan is presently under development. India hopes it will fly its first manned mission by 2025. Meanwhile, this international deal is not the first for Voyager. It has also signed launch contracts with India to use its two smaller rockets to launch payloads, as well as signed a development deal with Europe’s Airbus.

April 6, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.

  • China invites Brazil to participate in its lunar base project
  • There is no indication Brazil accepted the offer. The offer took place during a meeting between officials of the Brazil Space Agency and one of China’s pseudo-companies, China Great Wall Industry Corporation (which according to Jay “is the international launch service subsidiary” for China). Thus, this could be an effort by that pseudo-company to gain launch access to Brazil’s recently reactivated Alcântara spaceport.


India’s government plans to sell tourist tickets on its future manned flights

The new colonial movement: It appears that once it completes its first manned mission in space, dubbed Gaganyaan, India’s government space agency ISRO intends to sell tourist tickets on future manned flights.

[Union Minister Jitendra] Singh, who also holds the portfolios of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, informed the House that the objective of India’s maiden human spaceflight programme, ‘Gaganyaan’, is demonstration of human spaceflight capability to low earth orbit (LEO), which is a precursor to the future space tourism programme. “The ISRO has carried out a few feasibility studies for a sub-orbital space tourism mission,” the Union Minister revealed while announcing that after the accomplishment of the ‘Gaganyaan’ mission, activities towards space tourism would be firmed up.

Selling commercial tickets on its spacecraft would be completely in line with ISRO’s decades-long policy of trying to make money from its space capabilities. Whether this action however will help or hinder India’s independent space industry remains unclear. Like NASA a decade ago, there is a turf war in ISRO over whether to cede power to private enterprise, or hold it entirely in ISRO’s grip. If ISRO sells manned spaceflight tickets it will make it harder for private tourism companies to gain investment capital.

Updates on India’s space effort

It appears that India’s effort in space is evolving rapidly, based on several news stories today.

First, the Indian space agency ISRO signed a deal with Microsoft, whereby the software giant will provide support to private Indian space start-ups.

As part of a memorandum of understanding that Microsoft has signed with the Indian Space Research Organization, the firm will also provide space tech startups with go-to-market support and help them become enterprise ready, it said.

Startups handpicked by ISRO will be onboarded to Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub platform, where they will receive free access to several tools and resources. These tools include help with building and scaling on Azure, as well as GitHub Enterprise, Visual Studio Enterprise, Microsoft 365 and Power BI and Dynamics 365. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted phrase indicates once again that there is an aggressive turf war going on in India about who will control the aerospace industry. Similar to the battles that occurred at NASA in the 00s and 10s, there are people within ISRO who do not wish to cede their power to an independent private industry, and are doing whatever they can to block the Modi government’s effort to create such an independent industry.

In the end, as long as Modi government stands firm, this effort will fail. Private companies will increasingly succeed, and that success will feed the transition from a government-run industry to an independent and competitive one.

In other stories from India:
» Read more

The uncertainties surrounding India’s proposed first manned mission

Link here. The article does a nice job of outlining the program, dubbed Gaganyaan, as well as the many issues that has caused the first launch to be delayed more than three years.

The key quote however is this:

Despite the government claiming that there would be no delays due to Covid, the first uncrewed flight was rescheduled from 2020 to 2021 and then again to 2022. The dates were once again revised to late 2023 or early 2024, announced Union minister of state for science and technology Jitendra Singh in September this year. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted claim is quite amusing, considering how India’s government space agency ISRO shut down entirely because of the Wuhan panic for more than two years, and remains somewhat dormant even now. As a result of that panic, ISRO lost almost its entire commercial market to American companies.

Read the entire article. It summarizes the state of Gaganyaan in good detail, which also implies that a first launch in ’24 remains questionable.

Chandrayaan-3 now scheduled for summer 2023

India’s second attempt to put a rover on the surface of the Moon, Chandrayaan-3, has now been tentatively scheduled for launch in the summer of 2023.

The launch had originally been scheduled for launch in the fall of 2020, but was delayed when India shut down due to the Wuhan panic. Official at ISRO, India’s space agency, had hoped to launch by the summer of 2022, but that proved impossible. They have now delayed the mission a full year.

In fact, all earlier reports had indicated the rover was almost ready. This new delay of a full year suggests that some new issues might have been identified.

The news article at the link also notes that ISRO is now planning two unmanned orbital missions plus four launch abort tests before launching its first manned mission, dubbed Gaganyaan, not two abort tests as previously planned. They are still targeting ’24 for the manned mission.

ISRO chief: India’s manned mission will be delayed

The new colonial movement: The head of India’s space agency ISRO revealed during a press conference following yesterday’s PSLV launch that he is delaying by one or two years Gaganyaan manned mission.

Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) Chairman S Somanath on Thursday said the launch of the ambitious Gaganyaan mission, the country’s first manned space flight, cannot happen this year or next year as the agency is keen to ensure that all safety systems are in place.

Somanth’s comments confirm an earlier report. It appears he wants the agency to do at least two unmanned tests of the spacecraft’s crew abort system. He also want further tests of the GSLV rocket that will launch the manned capsule.

Somanth also indicated that India’s next attempt to land a rover on the Moon, Chandrayaan-3, might also be delayed from the presently scheduled August ’22 target launch as they review the lander’s systems.

India delays launch of manned mission to do two abort tests first

The new colonial movement: India’s space agency ISRO has decided to delay the launch of its Gaganyaan manned orbital mission at least one more year (until ’24) in order to do two abort tests of the capsule.

“The first Test Vehicle for this purpose is ready and we will launch it in September this year. The human capsule will be sent up 15 kilometres, we will simulate an abort and then the capsule will be safely brought down by parachutes into the sea,’’ Somanath, who is also Secretary, Department of Space, said.

The second Test Vehicle will be launched in December this year, sent to a greater height and then brought back after a similar simulation is carried out.

The mission had originally been scheduled to launch in ’22, but was delayed significantly by India’s panic over Wuhan.

ISRO successfully tests human-rated solid rocket booster

India’s space agency ISRO announced on May 13, 2022 that it had successfully tested the man-rated version of the solid rocket strap-on booster used on its GSLV Mark 3 rocket that will launch its first manned mission into space.

The 20 m long and 3.2 m diameter booster is the world’s second-largest operational booster with solid propellant. During this test, about 700 parameters were monitored and the performance of all the systems was normal.

Launch of the Gaganyaan manned mission is now targeting ’23.

India successfully completes static fire testing of rocket engine for human flights

The new colonial movement: India has successfully completed the third long duration static fire tests of its Vikas rocket engine, to be used on its planned manned space mission dubbed Gaganyaan.

[T]he Vikas engine is the workhorse liquid rocket engine powering the second stage of India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), second stage and the four strap-on stages of the Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV) and the twin-engine core liquid stage (L110) of GSLV Mk-III.

Experts point out that the successful testing is necessary as the testing is part of the human rating of a rocket that was not originally designed to launch humans into space. Every space agency follows its own standards of human rating of a launch vehicle and there are no global standards. “This test is one of the critical items which need to be checked in human rating GSLV Mk-III. Semi-Cryogenic engine SE-200 which will replace Vikas is still under development and its developmental times will not match the ambitious Gaganyaan timelines. Vikas is one of the most reliable engines in the world and has proved its mettle.

If you look at PSLV, GSLV Mk-II and GSLV Mk-III missions where Vikas has been used, the burn profile or duration is approximately around 150-160s only on a typical flight. Testing its performance above its designed operational limit is essential to ensure engine reliability against any event of a mishap.

In other words, for the manned mission Vikas will have to burn for a much longer time than its normal profile. They have now successfully shown that it can handle that long burn time.

More delays in India’s space program

Blaming COVID-19, the head of India’s space agency ISRO, K. Sivan, announced yesterday that they are delaying the first unmanned test flight of their manned space capsule so that it will not fly in 2021 as planned.

ISRO had planned eight launches in 2021, but has so far only flown one, and that launch took place in February. Since then no launches have occurred. Moreover, in 2020 India only completed two launches, far less than planned. In other words, their fear of COVID has essentially shut down their entire government space program for two years.

Meanwhile, China, Russia, SpaceX, and most other private companies roll on, launching frequently and without any negative consequences. The difference tells us that India is over-reacting, and allowing its fearful bureaucracy to run the show. The result is that they are losing ground not only in their effort to fly their first manned mission, but in commercial market share. I am certain that satellite companies that would have flown on their rockets have been shifting their business to SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and many of the other new rocket startups in the U.S.

India officially delays both its manned mission and next lunar lander

The new colonial movement: India has now officially delayed the launch of both its manned mission Gaganyaan as well as its next lunar lander/rover Chandrayaan-3.

They hope to launch an unmanned test Gaganyaan mission before the end of this year, but the manned mission will not occur until after a second unmanned mission scheduled very tentatively in the 2022-2023 time frame.

As for Chandrayaan-3, they had initially hoped to launch it last fall, but they panic over the coronavirus that shut down their entire space industry for a years has now apparently pushed that launch back ’22, a delay of more than a year.

India is targeting ’21 for first unmanned test launch of manned system

The new colonial movement: According to Indian government officials, the first unmanned test flight of their Gaganyaan manned capsule will occur before the end of 2021.

The first unmanned launch is slated for December 2021. The Gaganyaan is a crewed orbital spacecraft expected to carry three astronauts into space for at least seven days. The spacecraft is likely to consist of an orbital module which will have a service and a crew module. The mission is estimated to cost around Rs 10,000 crore. The GSLV Mk-III, now called LVM-3 (Launch Vehicle Mark-3), will be deployed for the launch.

The new name for the rocket helps distinguish it from the GSLV Mk-II, a smaller version aimed mostly at commercial customers.

India also hopes to launch a new smallsat rocket in ’21, as well as its next lunar lander/rover, Chandrayaan-3. The country’s space effort will also be attempting to recover from its shutdown in 2020 due to the Wuhan virus panic.

Russia wins spacesuit contract for India’s Gaganyaan manned mission

The new colonial movement: The Russian Zvezda design center in Roscosmos has won the spacesuit contract to build the spacesuits and capsule seats for India’s Gaganyaan manned mission, targeted for a ’22 launch.

It is not surprising that the Russians won this contract. India does not have a lot of time to get the mission off the ground, and needs help. The Russian spacesuits are practical and proven, and are far superior to anything available from NASA. The only other option available at this moment would be the flight suits SpaceX designed for its Dragon missions and flown once. I suspect the Indians want something that has been used and tested more.

Moreover, their astronauts are being trained by the Russians. Better and simpler to have them use the suits the Russians use.

India’s first manned mission faces delays, caused by COVID-19

The new colonial movement: According to ISRO officials, India’s first manned mission, Gaganyaan, might have to be delayed because of restrictions imposed due to the Wuhan flu panic.

Bengaluru-headquartered ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) had earlier said it has planned two trial flights without crew ahead of Gaganyaan — the first one around December 2020 and the second around July 2021.

“…there are some disturbances because of COVID, but still nothing is confirmed (about delay). We need to see, still we have got some six months time. We are trying to see if we can reach there,” a senior ISRO official told P T I. He added: “There may be slight up and down (in the schedule), but that will be known only when we do the complete evaluation…it is premature to say anything, because the team that is working (on the project) has not indicated (about delay).”

The manned flight is presently scheduled for 2022. This might change.

Big budget cut for India’s manned space program

India’s manned space program has received a 70% cut in funding in that country’s most recent budget, according to one news story from India.

From the first link:

The human spaceflight program of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), called Gaganyaan, received only about 30% of the funds sought by the according to the Times of India. ISRO said it will find a way around the low budget, but details were not provided in the news report.

The plan has been to launch a unmanned mission late this year or early next year, with the 5-to-7-day manned mission to occur one year later.

Based on the article from India, it appears to me that these cuts are part of the negotiation process for determining ISRO’s budget, and are not yet firm. It also appears that the government is experiencing sticker shock. It wants a manned mission, but when it was told what it would cost it balked.

I suspect that it is highly unlikely that they will be able to fly the manned mission by 2022 with these cuts. The Modi government will either have to decide to spend the money, or significantly delay its human spaceflight effort.

India picks its first astronauts; confirms new lunar rover

The new colonial movement: The head of India’s space agency ISRO yesterday confirmed that their plans to build and land a rover on the Moon in 2020, while also announcing that they have chosen the first four astronauts to train for their first manned mission in 2022.

He also confirmed that the land acquisition for a second launch site is proceeding.

The astronauts, whose identity has not been revealed, will be trained by Russia.

India hires Russia to train its astronauts

The new colonial movement: India’s space agency ISRO has hired the Russians to train its astronauts for its first home-built manned mission, Gaganyaan, presently scheduled to fly in 2022.

This decision makes a lot of sense. First, the space programs of Russia and India have cooperated a lot in the past, with Russia launch India’s first astronaut on a Soyuz in 1984. Second, Russia has a great deal of experience training new astronauts from other countries, including tourists. Third, neither of the other countries with manned programs, the U.S. and China, have established systems for this kind of training. China has never training any outsiders, and NASA’s systems for this are not designed for efficiency. Moreover, it has been eight years since the U.S. put anyone in space. If I was India I would prefer using someone with recent experience.

India to build its own space station

The new colonial movement: India announced yesterday that it is beginning design work on its own space station, with a plan to begin construction and launch following its first manned mission, dubbed Gaganyaan, in 2022.

Giving out broad contours of the planned space station, Dr. Sivan [head of India’s space agency ISRO] said it has been envisaged to weigh 20 tonnes and will be placed in an orbit of 400 kms above earth where astronauts can stay for 15-20 days. The time frame is 5-7 years after Gaganyaan, he stated.

The announcement came out of the first meeting of what ISRO calls its Gaganyaan National Advisory Council, designed to bring together people from India’s space industry to prepare for that first manned flight in 2022.

India opens its own Human Space Flight Center

The new colonial movement: India’s space agency ISRO today cut the ribbon in opening its new Human Space Flight Center, the facility that will supervise the designing and construction of their Gaganyaan manned mission, scheduled to launch by December 2021.

The Ganganyaan project head, R. Hutton, is the man whom ISRO’s boss, K. Sivan, gave an opportunity to speak at the most recent Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) launch. He had been director of that program, and has now been promoted to head Gaganyaan.

India’s government approves manned space program

The new colonial movement: India’s government yesterday approved the proposed manned space program put forth by ISRO, that nation’s space agency.

The Union Cabinet on Friday approved the Gaganyaan Programme with demonstration of Indian Human Spaceflight capability to low earth orbit for a mission duration ranging from one orbital period to a maximum of seven days. A human rated Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV MK-III) will be used to carry the orbital module which have the necessary provisions for sustaining a 3 member crew for the duration of the mission. Reportedly, India plans to call its astronauts “Vyomnauts”.

The total fund requirement for the programme is Rs 10,000 crore and will include the cost of technology development, flight hardware realization and essential infrastructure elements. So far, ISRO has spent Rs 173 crore in developing critical technologies needed for the for human space flight. Two unmanned flights and one manned flight will be undertaken as part of this programme.

The approval includes a deadline for the first manned mission of 40 months from today, or April 2022. This is an extremely tight schedule. I would not be surprised if they fail to meet it.

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