Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter now safe, Gaganyaan worries ISRO

Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter in good health, but Gaganyaan worries ISRO

Launched on July 22, 2019, and well on course for a textbook landing, the mission had suffered a dramatic last-minute flaw.

Despite Mission Chandrayaan-2 recording another success with its Orbiter completing a year around the Moon last week, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has reason to be worried: India’s maiden manned space mission, Gaganyaan overshooting its deadline due to Covid-19-triggered delays.

The space agency was euphoric in its declaration that the Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter had enough fuel on board to keep it alive for another seven years. This was a reiteration of what Isro chairman K Sivan had declared soon after acknowledging the failure of the mission’s original purpose: A soft-landing on the lunar surface.

Launched on July 22, 2019, and well on course for a textbook landing, the mission had suffered a dramatic last-minute flaw. Barely metres away from a soft touchdown on September 7, the Orbiter had lost communication link with the Lander, Vikram. ISRO eventually ruled that Vikram had hard-landed, preparing the stage for a third attempt, Chandrayaan-3.

However, this mission’s timeline, too, is now in big trouble. But for Isro, nothing could be more urgent than the Gaganyaan mission. Before the launch of the manned spaceflight, originally planned by 2022, the space agency had intended to undertake two unmanned missions.

Two years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared the Gaganyaan mission would be a proud feat to accomplish by August 15, 2022, when India completes 75 years of Independence. The mission plan is to send three Indians to space for a period of five to seven days.

First of the two unmanned missions, planned for December 2020, is now very unlikely due to the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus, it is learnt, had also infected staff members at the space agency’s multiple centres. Isro has reportedly communicated its inability on this front to the Space Commission.

However, since Gaganyaan is a prestige project overseen from the very top, Isro is making all efforts to ensure that the 2022 deadline is adhered to. The four astronauts shortlisted for the mission are currently undergoing training in Russia. After a brief disruption, the training has resumed.

In an official statement, Russian space agency Roscosmos had informed that the astronauts were in good health and determined to continue with their training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC). Operating the Soyuz MS crewed spacecraft is a key part of the training schedule.