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With Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing  that an Indian astronaut would go into space by 2022, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has finally got a definitive timeline for a project it has been working on for the last 15 years.


August 2004: ISRO Policy Planning Committee recommends manned space mission

November 2006: National committee comprising 80 scientists and technocrats endorses proposal

September 2007: First public announcement of the human space programme

February-March 2009: Another committee, comprising Montek Singh Ahluwalia, R Chidambaram, Roddam Narasimha, M G K Menon, Yash Pal, M S Swaminathan and K Radhakrishanan, discusses the desirability and feasibility of the programme and expresses support

April 2010: Failure of GSLV-D3

December 2010: Failure of GSLV-F06

December 18, 2014: Successful testing of experimental flight of GSLV Mk-III; this also successfully tests an experimental crew module, demonstrating reentry capability

June 2017: First ‘developmental’ flight of GSLV Mk-III

July 2018: First successful flight of the crew escape system

August 15, 2018: Prime Minister announces manned mission to take place before 2022


1.The rocket: GSLV Mk-III

  •  The spacecraft carrying human beings, called crew module, is likely to weigh in excess of 5 to 6 tonnes.
  • ISRO’s main launch vehicle, the PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), which carried the Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan missions too, can carry payloads that are barely up to 2 tonnes, and that too only to orbits at about 600 km altitude from the Earth’s surface.
  • That is why the development of GSLV Mk-III, a launch vehicle with capabilities to deliver much heavier payloads much deeper into space, was necessary.
  • After three decades of efforts, mainly concentrated 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.
  • The LVM-3 is the declared launch vehicle for taking the manned crew module into space.

2.Reentry & recovery tech

  • The satellites normally launched by ISRO, like those for communication or remote sensing, are meant to remain in space, even when their life is over.
  • Even Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan were not meant to return to Earth.
  • Any manned spacecraft, however, needs to come back.
  • This involves mastering of the highly complicated and dangerous reentry and recovery ability.
  • While reentering Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft needs to withstand very high temperatures, in excess of several thousand degrees, which is created due to friction.
  • Also, the spacecraft needs to reenter the atmosphere at a very precise speed and angle, and even the slightest deviation could end in disaster.
  • The first successful experimental flight of GSLV Mk-III on December 18, 2014, also involved the successful testing of an experimental crew module that came back to Earth after being taken to an altitude of 126 km into space.
  • Called the Crew module Atmospheric Reentry Experiment (CARE), the spacecraft reentered the atmosphere at about 80 km altitude and landed in the sea near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, from where it was recovered by the Coast Guard.
  • The external configuration of that crew module was the same as that to be used in the manned flight.

3.Crew Escape System

  • This is a crucial safety technology, involving an emergency escape mechanism for the astronauts in case of a faulty launch.
  • The mechanism ensures the crew module gets an advance warning of anything going wrong with the rocket, and pulls it away to a safe distance, after which it can be landed either on sea or on land with the help of attached parachutes.
  • Only on July 5, ISRO completed the first successful flight of the crew escape system.
  • A simulated crew module weighing about 3.5 tonnes was launched from Sriharikota. It reached 2.7 km into space before unfurling its parachutes and floating back to the Earth’s surface.

4.Life support

  • The Environmental Control & Life Support System (ECLSS) is meant to ensure that conditions inside the crew module are suitable for humans to live comfortably.
  • The inside of the crew module is a twin-walled sealed structure that will recreate Earth-like conditions for the astronauts.
  • It would be designed to carry two or three astronauts.
  • The ECLSS maintains a steady cabin pressure and air composition, removes carbon dioxide and other harmful gases, controls temperature and humidity, and manages parameters like fire detection and suppression, food and water management, and emergency support.
  • While the layout and design of the ECLSS has been finalised, its many individual components and systems are in the process of being tested.
  • The design and configuration of the inside of the crew module have also been finalised.
  • Ground testing will have to be followed by tests in the space orbit while simulating zero gravity and deep vacuum.

5.Astronaut training

  • In the early part of the planning process, a proposal for setting up an astronaut training centre in Bangalore was floated. Initially targeted by 2012, it is yet to take off.
  • While ISRO still plans to set up a permanent facility, the selected candidates for the first manned mission will most likely train at a foreign facility.
  • Candidates will need to train for at least two years in living in zero gravity and dealing with a variety of unexpected experiences of living in space.
  • Some training would also be imparted at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine of the Indian Air Force at Bengaluru.
  • The process of selecting candidates has not yet begun.


During the early years of planning, the cost of India’s first manned space mission was estimated at about Rs 12,400 crore. But that was for a mission to be launched in 2015. But  the mission would now be completed for less than Rs 10,000 crore.

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