IAF to select astronauts for manned spaceflight

The manned mission will be preceded by two unmanned launches, the first of which has been scheduled for December 2020.

India’s first manned spaceflight mission, Gaganyaan will take off to space in December 2021, with three Indians selected by the Indian Air Force (IAF).

This timeframe, announced here on Wednesday by Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) chairman, K Sivan, will allow the space agency to stick to the 2022 deadline set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Isro has already commenced informal discussions with IAF on the selection process. “IAF has the experience of training for manned missions twice, including Rakesh Sharma. Whoever they select, we will go with it. Their process is multi-pronged, combining mental, psychological and physical aspects,” Sivan told mediapersons here.

The manned mission will be preceded by two unmanned launches, the first of which has been scheduled for December 2020. Sivan explained, “This will give us sufficient time. The second unmanned mission launch will be in June 2021, before the manned mission launch in December that year.”

Once selected, the shortlisted space mission candidates will have to undergo two to three years of rigorous training. Isro indicated that this will be done through an international partnership. “We may have to seek outside help but at reduced costs. Germany, Russia and the United States have such facilities.”

Estimated to cost less than Rs 10,000 crore, the Gaganyaan project will see a three-member crew rocket to space by a GSLV launch vehicle. The spacecraft will be positioned at a low earth orbit of 300 to 400 km for 5-7 days. The astronauts will conduct a series of microgravity experiments during this period.

On the return phase, the crew module will detach from the service module at 120 km above the earth, before splashing down on the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal or even a land touchdown.

The entire project will see Isro take industry help in a big way. “This partnership is critical not only to meet Gaganyaan’s tight schedule but also to realise Isro’s plans for production of PSLVs (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles) and other small launch vehicles.”

Once PSLV production picks up pace, the space agency has proposed to undertake 50 to 60 launches per year. But Sivan said Isro alone cannot achieve this and the industry has to take Isro’s load.

Isro is depending hugely on the private sector to build the critical Mission Control Centre, Tracking Centre and Launchpads for the Gaganyaan project.

“The project requires huge infrastructure. The industry will have to work overtime,” Sivan said.

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IAF to select astronauts for manned spaceflight

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