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.

India teams up with France to prep for its first manned mission

The new colonial movement: India has signed a cooperative deal with France to provide them help in preparing for its first manned mission in 2022, now dubbed Gaganyaan by India’s press.

Following the signing of agreements between the two parties on Thursday, the agencies “will be combining their expertise in the fields of space medicine, astronaut health monitoring, life support, radiation protection, space debris protection and personal hygiene systems.”

The announcement was made by CNES [France’s space agency] president Jean-Yves Le Gall during the inaugural of Bengaluru Space Expo-2018 where he was the chief guest. It is being organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry along with ISRO and Antrix, the agency’s commercial arm, from September 6 to 8.

The two countries will also work together on other space research.