India to send astronauts to space, approves $2.5bn plan
India has earmarked more than $2.5bn to launch its own manned space flight and join the elite club of the US, China and Russia. India's planning commission has set aside the cash to finance preparations.
With huge kitty the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) will attempt to put two people into orbit 172 miles (275km) above the Earth for seven days.
India’s second unmanned lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2, is scheduled to be launched in 2011.
ISRO chief spokesperson S Satish told TOI on Monday that the government has earmarked Rs 95 crore this year towards pre-project funding activity, which essentially involves initiating more studies relating to a human space flight.
Last year, the figure was Rs 50 crore. "We are awaiting formal Cabinet approval. It is possible that Cabinet will seek more clarifications before we get the final go-ahead," Satish said.
In Delhi, MoS in PMO Prithviraj Chavan said several aspects of the mission would have to be examined to ensure that the project was viable. "Planning Commission has approved it but the Cabinet is still to clear it," he said. The cost of the mission, at Rs 12,400 crore -- roughly the initial spending on NREGA -- has to be factored in before the government gives a green signal even though, as the pre-project funding indicates, it is interested.
The programme is perhaps the most ambitious one during the 11th five year plan after Chandrayaan-1. Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) director K Radhakrishnan told TOI that the mission will lift off with the three-stage Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-Mk2 version). "This rocket will be slightly reconfigured and human rated. Preliminary work has already been initiated," he said.
The GSLV-Mk2 will have an indigenous cryogenic engine and this rocket's maiden flight is slated to take place sometime this year. The current GSLVs are powered with the Russian-made cryogenic engine.
The flight plan envisages the manned vehicle with a two-man crew orbiting in the low earth orbit (LEO) for seven days. The LEO extends up to 2,000 km. There has been change in the flight plan as Satish said that originally it was to operate at an altitude of 400 km. "This has been lowered to 275 km because it will permit a heavier mass to fly and the crew compartment itself will be made more comfortable," he said. Some 16 minutes after lift off, the manned compartment will be injected into orbit.
Satish said that after the seven-day mission is completed, there will be a sea landing of the manned compartment. As precursor to this, ISRO launched the Space Capsule Recovery experiment on January 10, 2007 and successfully recovered it in the Bay of Bengal on January 22, 2007.