ISRO’s Gaganyaan Mission: India’s Next Big Break in Space Exploration

On 15th August 2018, the Prime Minister in his Independence day speech unexpectedly announced the maiden mission to send Indians in space by 2022. Then on 28th December 2018, the Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister approved the ‘Gaganyaan mission’ by allotting Rs 10,000 crores to the organization for it.

Project director for the PSLV programme, R Hutton and senior scientist at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center, Unnikrishnan Nair were named the project director and the Human spaceflight center director respectively. The three astronauts (which will be called Vyomanauts with respect to India), will include at least one woman for the mission, will be selected by the Institute of Aerospace Medicine (IAM) from a pool of 30 astronauts from the Indian Air Force. Initial training will be done at the facilities at IAM but for advanced training, international agencies may be considered.

The human spaceflight centre, sources said, will also be responsible for setting up India’s Future astronaut training facility, some 8-10 km from Kempegowda International Airport. Likely to be named Astronaut training and Biomedical Engineering Center, the facility will be developed in Devenahalli and is expected to resemble one in Russia. The centre is likely to be spread across 40-50 acres. “While we have a lot of expertise on the engineering side (launching and payloads), the human side of sending astronauts to space will be a challenge and an opportunity,” Sivan said.

Two unmanned test missions will take place in December 2020 and July 2021 to discover any hidden problems before the human spaceflight mission scheduled for December 2021. The GSLV MK-III rocket will be used to carry the orbital module in the outer space at an altitude of approximately 300-400 kilometers from the Earth’s Surface for a period of 7 days.

The chairman also declared the future plans of the organization to send humans to the International Space Station (ISS)and the Moon.


Technological Factors

ISRO has developed a strong reputation around the world for being able to carve out a name for itself in the competitive world of Space Technology primarily for being economical and creative with the limited resources entrusted to them. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLV) and Geo-Synchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV) have been one of the more reliable launch vehicles in the market for sending satellites and payloads into the desired orbit at competitive prices compared to other launch vehicles in the market.

The success of the Chandrayaan-1 and the Mangalyaan missions gathered significant attention around the world for the impressive achievement of the organization. Many other launch vehicles have also been developed depending upon the weight of the satellites and/or payloads on board. Recently, India also broke a world record by launching 104 satellites into space from a PSLV-C37 rocket.

With new projects and launches scheduled this year at a rate of 2 every month which includes the Chandrayaan-2 mission, the organization has finally started to open its wings even though the Gaganyaan mission is considered to be a vanity project which doesn’t provide the benefits expected from a giant project of its scale.

However, the members within the organization have already started planning how they will work around adapting the technologies to be used for future projects and hence, provide the necessary benefits in the longer run. Other developing technologies like Reusability of Launch Vehicles puts India directly in competition with powerhouse companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin.

International Factors

The recent space rush by various companies is reminiscent of the space rush in the Cold war era. However, this time around the war is circled around the need to push the boundaries of the world into the Cosmos to gain prominence in an untapped sector for profitability. The competition in space technology has been cut-throat with the entry of private companies like SpaceX & Blue Origin in addition to government organizations like NASA, ROSCOSMOS, CNSA.

The commercial wing of ISRO called ANTRIX has hardly been able to tap the market of commercial satellite transportation and payloads of foreign countries into space by gaining dominance over only 1% of the market. However, in today’s age of the space race, efforts are being made by various governments and companies to create businesses around these technologies and generate significant profit. India needs to make strides quickly to manipulate this area to maximize their opportunities.

Another resolve of the business-minded Trump camp is to redirect NASA’s mission to “large-scale economic development of space”. This could include mining, space tourism, and other industries of the future. NASA is partnering more than ever before the private space industry, with a vision to privatize low-orbit Earth – that is, to “enable the transition from government-owned and operated stations to privately-owned and operated space stations”. Under the space industrialization initiative, two US companies have announced their lunar missions already. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has revealed its first tourist flight, an art mission, Dear Moon, that will carry aboard a handful of artists.

Moon Express, another private company owned by Naveen Jain, has received formal approval to begin mining missions on the moon. They are expected to set-up a lunar material plant on the moon to enable off-earth manufacturing of satellites instead of launching them from Earth. Maxar, yet another private company has been awarded the contract by NASA to study the potential of establishing commercial manufacturing operations in space so as to build satellites.

Anand & Sheetal Ranganathan, Contributors at Swarajya Magazine

Political Factors

Here is a video of PM Modi’s announcement speech for the Space Mission.

The reactions to the announcement in the above video say more about the reality than any other gesture ever can. The perishing applause before it even begins, and the disinterest and boredom among the people give us an idea of the ground reality where anything which doesn’t concern us, doesn’t interest us. The effort to draw out a faux sense of nationalism among the people misses the illusionary landing spot.

“It would be ludicrous not to look at Modi’s pronouncement as an upcoming 2019 election speech rather than as a road map for India’s space programme,” says Gauhar Raza, a retired researcher and former chief scientist of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in New Delhi.

It is important to note that the media plays an enormous part in influencing the reactions by diluting the achievements of this organization, either by underreporting or burying them over the barrage of sensationalist news in an effort to serve their power and customer structure. The nation’s eyes are only turned when there is a rocket launch which serves as nothing more than a reminder of the existence of this organization.

One can easily deduce the political motivations behind the move by just taking a simple look at the budget allocation to the department over the years. A quick read of the following Twitter thread puts everything into perspective.

It is indicative of the inability of our national government to maintain an appropriate balance between the various interests that it must serve in allocating the national budget, which ends up being used primarily based on the choices of a few powerful ministers.

It feels as if India wants an image makeover in the popular narrative overseas where it is portrayed as the poster child of Second World countries, riddled with the simplest of problems like poverty, hunger etc, in the gravest of manners. After all, everything is just about perception.

Sources: Times Now, Swarajya Magazine, Nature, Firstpost, TOI
Image Credits: Outlook India

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