India schedules first crewed space mission for Q4, 2024

Two test missions fly first, before Gaganyaan makes India just the fourth nation to put people into orbit

India has named the fourth quarter of 2024 as the likely date for the nation’s first crewed space mission.

Just three nations – the USSR/Russia, the USA, and China – have launched crewed missions.

India’s Minister for Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh, yesterday revealed the 2024 target in an answer [PDF] to a question posed in the Lok Sabha, India’s Parliament.

Singh detailed a planned mission called “G1” that will launch in the last quarter of 2023 and “carry a humanoid as payload.” G1 will test orbital module propulsion systems, mission management, comms systems, recovery operations, and the crew escape system. Parachutes will also be given a workout.

G2, scheduled for Q2 2024 will do more of the same.

H1, the crewed flight, will follow in Q4.

Singh said astronaut training is under way but did not comment on whether crew have been selected to fill the three available seats. The minister said that training is taking place in the Indian city of Bengaluru, a change from previous rounds of training in Russia.

India launched and recovered a dummy crew capsule way back in 2014 and appears to still be using the tech developed for that test.

The minister’s answer resets a program that previously targeted test launches starting in 2021 but was delayed by safety concerns and COVID-19 complications.

The mission plan to use India’s home-made GSLV MkIII heavy lift booster remains unchanged, while no new flight plan has been suggested to trump the previously planned seven-day orbital adventure.

India’s space program is famously economical: its Mangalyaan Mars orbiter worked with a budget of just $74 million (in 2013 dollars). Budgets for Gaganyaan top the billion dollar mark.

Singh had a busy day yesterday, as he also informed the Lok Sabha of India’s plans to send a submersible 6,000 metres beneath the waves “for the exploration of deep sea resources like minerals.”

The minister named “Nickel, Cobalt, Rare Earths, Manganese etc.” as the sort of stuff the mission will search for. A quick reminder: rare earths are essential for the manufacture of electronics, and China dominates world supply. India is therefore going to considerable lengths, and great depths, to find alternative sources.

Singh said the mission, named “Samudrayaan”, will also carry a crew of three and should descend to the depths by the year 2026. ®

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