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Battling Covid minefield, ISRO on target to launch unmanned Gaganyaan space vehicle in December

ISRO is racing against time to keep its date with the launch of Gaganyaan (Pic: Courtesy Twitter/@INsightGL)

India’s first “uncrewed” mission is scheduled to launch in December as part of the human spaceflight programme “Gaganyaan”.  The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is racing against the time to keep up the appointment.

As part of the mandate of Gaganyaan, two unmanned flights are planned to test the end-to-end capacity, eventually for the manned mission.

The Gaganyaan programme is being launched to demonstrate the capability to send humans to low earth orbit on board an Indian launch vehicle and bring them back to earth safely.

Also Read: Astronauts of India’s indigenous space flight Gaganyaan will be treated with lip smacking Upma, Biryani in space

According to the ISRO officials, despite the adverse impact of the COVID-19-induced lockdowns that has disrupted hardware delivery schedules, they are nevertheless “running against the time” to meet the deadline.

"Design, analysis and documentation are done by ISRO while hardware for Gaganyaan is fabricated and supplied by hundreds of industries across the country", an ISRO official told PTI news agency.

So far, ISRO is on track to launch the uncrewed Gaganyaan mission, which is part of the space agency's ambitious project to send humans to space.

The Rs 10,000 crore Gaganyaan Mission was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018 and is likely to propel India in direct competition with the US and Russia which has so far dominated human space exploration. Since last year, this mission has been encountering several delays owing to the coronavirus pandemic. The Karnataka government had reimposed a lockdown earlier this year to contain the unabated spread of the virus.

"It is going fine, Covid-19 lockdown has had an impact but there is no delay as of now and once it is lifted the teams will meet and assess the situation before taking a final call," said the official.

Also Read: France to partner India in Gaganyaan human spaceflight mission

The Gaganyaan mission is a three-stage project which will see two uncrewed module launches before the astronauts, who have finished their training in Russia, embark on the historic journey. While the first launch is scheduled for December this year, the second uncrewed launch will take place in the end of 2022 or early 2023.  

ISRO's heavy-lift launcher GSLV Mk III has been identified for the mission.

As of now, all the pieces are falling into place. ISRO's first four would-be space travellers recently spent about a year in Russia, familiarizing themselves on old Soyuz capsules and simulating spaceflight conditions in centrifuges and pressure chambers. Now, they've returned to India, where they will begin training on the Gaganyaan capsule itself.

To ensure that its space travellers are in good health, ISRO in April unveiled an agreement with its French counterpart. India and France have a long history of space cooperation, and France has plenty of space medicine knowledge that it has previously brought to programmes such as the International Space Station.

ISRO hopes that such international partnerships will help build up technology it needs to send up humans in the future as well. But as of now, ISRO has unveiled Indian space food and humanoid robots for uncrewed flights.