India to launch android into space to test crewed launch capability

Vyommitra, your multitasking, bilingual, female space friend, will fly before the long-delayed Gaganyaan launch in 2025

India's Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will send a humanoid robot astronaut into this space this year, then send it back alongside actual humans in 2025 on its long-delayed Gaganyaan orbital mission.

According to the space agency, the robot-crewed Vyommitra Mission is scheduled for the third quarter of this year.

The robot – whose name translates to "Space Friend" in Sanskrit – can monitor module parameters, issue alerts and execute life support operations. Vyommitra is also an excellent multitasker that can operate six panels while responding to queries and mimicking human functions. The humanoid speaks two languages: Hindi and English.

It's also been designated as female – to the extent possible for a legless robot – and sports coiffed hair, feminine facial features, and hands that look like they are wearing white gloves. It resembles a wax figurine or mannequin and The Register fancies it mostly manages to stay out of the Uncanny Valley – the term applied to robots and digital depictions of humans that try to appear human but instead come off as creepy and/or unsettling.


Vyommitra is not creepy or unsettling – Click to enlarge

Appearance aside, Vyommitra is a badass science-bot that will perform microgravity experiments in the uncrewed mission, then offer monitoring and general support to astronauts when ISRO does finally launch its Gaganyaan mission.

"It will simulate the exact human functions in space; it will check whether the systems are right. This will be very useful to simulate, as if a human is flying," commented then ISRO chief K Sivan when the humanoid was announced back in 2020.

The crewed, domestically engineered mission to space was pitched by prime minister Narendra Modi in 2018 with a predicted 2022 launch. That date slipped several times, thanks to COVID-19 disruptions and other macroeconomic and geopolitical issues.

India's previous plan called for a Q4 2024 launch.

Now it's scheduled for sometime in 2025.

Whenever it launches, the first crewed Gaganyaan mission will send astronauts in a mostly autonomous 5.3 metric ton capsule to a 400km Earth orbit for three days. Afterward, the inhabited capsule is expected to return to Earth and land at sea. The goal is to demonstrate that India has achieved safe human spaceflight capability.

Current ISRO chief S Somnath reportedly revealed back in October that ISRO prefers female test pilots or female scientists on its Gaganyaan mission.

The space chief indicated that finding such qualified female candidates was tricky, as there are no Air Force fighter test pilots in India, so therefore the women included in the mission would likely be scientists.

It’s not clear if the specific inclusion of women is for specific purposes or as a diversity effort. It is also not clear if Vyommitra is considered part of that effort. ®

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