Will India’s maiden spaceflight Gaganyaan miss its deadline amidst COVID-19 outbreak?

Manned spaceflight Gaganyaan, initially scheduled for August 2022, is likely to be delayed amidst the COVID-19 situation.
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The COVID-19 pandemic is now impacting India’s dream to visit space via its maiden spaceflight Gaganyaan.

Addressing the audience during the plenary session of the International Astronautical Congress 2020, K.Sivan, ISRO Chairman and Secretary of Department of Space, said Gaganyaan was expected to be launched in August 2022 but the date might be slightly delayed due to the COVID-19 situation.

Image Credit: International Astronautical Congress 2020

“We had targeted to launch Gaganyaan by August 2022, but due to COVID-19 impact on the mission there may be a small shift in the target...the mission is progressing well,” said K Sivan.

Gaganyaan was initially scheduled to be launched in 2022 as announced by the central government in 2019. However, ISRO was progressing with the mission and expected to launch the maiden manned mission by December 2021, long before its deadline.

However, COVID-19 has not only delayed the expected launch but might also cause a slight delay from its initial launch date.

Media reports had said ISRO might not be able to launch its unmanned first trial of Gaganyaan this December as scheduled.

International partnerships

The ISRO chairman also revealed that the space agency was in talks with NASA for collaboration on developing astronaut safety technologies to expedite the progress of Gaganyaan mission. However, the decision was yet to be finalised.

If talks succeed, US will become the third country to collaborate with India for the Gaganyaan mission after Russia and France.

India had joined hands with Russian space agency Roscosmos for training of astronauts. The agency had also announced that Zvezda, a Russian research and development enterprise, had started manufacturing space suits for the astronauts to be a part of the maiden mission. India is also working with France to develop technologies related to space medicine.

“India has signed 250 documents in the field of space cooperation with 59 countries to advance India's capabilities and to help other space-aspiring nations benefit from space,” said Dr Sivan. He added that “international collaboration is the hallmark” of India’s space activities.

A 'national effort'

Earlier in 2018, Union Cabinet had noted that Gaganyaan was a “national effort” and would involve participation from industry, academia, and national agencies across India.

The Gaganyaan Programme, approved by the Union Cabinet in December 2018, will carry three crew members to low earth orbit — orbit within an altitude of 160 to 2,000 km or less — on a five to seven-day mission.

Since earlier this year, the Indian space agency has been calling upon Indian and international organisations, startups, academia, industry to collaborate and come up with R&D solutions across several fields including radiation hazards characterisation and mitigation techniques, space food, human robotic interfaces, thermal protection systems, life support systems, green propulsion, advanced materials, debris management among many others.

Despite COVID-19 and the delay in the mission timelines, the success of the Gaganyaan project will make India the fourth country to have conducted human spaceflights after the US, Russia, and China.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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