BANGALORE, India – The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), with help from Russia, hopes to join the ranks of nations capable of independently launching astronauts into space around 2015 and has revealed the designs for its first orbiting crew capsule.
In its maiden manned mission, ISRO's largely autonomous 3-ton capsule will orbit the Earth at 248 miles (400 km) in altitude for up to seven days with a two-person crew on board, ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair announced Jan. 3 at the Indian Science Congress held in Shillong.
The capsule will be designed to carry three people, and a planned upgraded version will be equipped with a rendezvous and docking capability, he said.
ISRO spokesman S. Satish told Space News Jan. 10 that the program is estimated to cost about 100 billion rupees ($2 billion) over an eight-year period dating back to 2007. The manned mission was formally proposed to the government in 2006.
Although full-mission funding has yet to be approved, Satish said preliminary work has already begun using 950 million rupees ($19.4 million) allocated for the effort in ISRO's 40.7 billion rupee ($834 million) budget for 2007-2008.
The necessary mission infrastructure includes a new launch pad at ISRO's Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Satish said. Another key facility is an astronaut training center to be located in Bangalore.
As a precursor to manned spaceflights, ISRO launched and recovered intact a 1,212-pound (550-kg) space capsule in January 2007, demonstrating its capability to develop heat-resistant materials necessary for atmospheric re-entry.
India also launched a landmark moon probe, Chandrayaan-1, into lunar orbit last year.
But several key capabilities have yet to be developed, including a man-rated launcher featuring safety and reliability enhancements, life support systems, rescue and recovery systems, a robotic manipulator, and new mission-management and control systems, Satish said.
Satish said the astronaut capsule would launch atop a modified version of ISRO's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark 2, currently under development.
The GSLV Mark 2 features an indigenously developed cryogenic upper-stage engine; the Mark 1 variant currently in use has a Russian-supplied upper stage engine. The first test launch of the standard GSLV Mark 2 launcher is scheduled for this year.
Satish said ISRO's human spaceflight program will benefit from assistance provided by the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos.
The cooperative arrangement was sealed in an accord signed Dec. 5 by Nair and Roskosmos Director-General Anatoly Perminov during a state visit to India by Russian President Dimitri Medvedev.
Under the accord, an Indian cosmonaut will fly aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2013 ahead of ISRO's planned 2015 mission, Satish said.
Roskosmos will also help in crew selection and training and in construction of ISRO's orbiter vehicle.
Russia and India have a long history of space-related collaboration. In 1984, Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian in space, flying to the then-Soviet Union's Salyut-7 space station aboard a Soyuz capsule.
Today only Russia, the United States and China are capable of independently launching astronauts. China joined the exclusive club in 2003 using a capsule that was developed with Russian assistance.
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