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Explained: What is Gaganyaan, India's first crewed space mission?

Isro recently completed a key crew escape system test for the Gaganyaan mission, which will demonstrate India's human spaceflight capabilities

The Gaganyaan test vehicle lifts off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota on Saturday. (AFP)
The Gaganyaan test vehicle lifts off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota on Saturday. (AFP) (HT_PRINT)

India moved a step closer to its first crewed space mission, Gaganyaan, on 21 October after completing a key test successfully. 

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) launched the Test Vehicle Demonstration (TV-D1), the single-stage liquid propulsion rocket, at 10 a.m. on 21 October from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Andhra Pradesh's Sriharikota.

“I am very happy to announce the successful accomplishment of the TV-D1 mission,” Isro’s chief S Somnath said in a press conference, a Press Trust of India (PTI) report said. The mission’s purpose was to demonstrate the performance of the crew escape system for the Gaganyaan mission.

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The Gaganyaan project will aim to demonstrate human spaceflight capability by launching a crew of three members to an orbit of 400 km for a three-day mission and bringing them back safely to Earth. 

The test flight launched TV-D1 equipped with a crew escape system and crew module at an altitude of 17 km followed by a safe touchdown in the sea, about 10 km from Sriharikota in the Bay of Bengal. About 90 billion has been allocated for the mission, a Reuters report said.

Before the Gaganyaan mission launches, there are several pre-cursor missions to assess the preparedness levels of critical technologies. According to Isro, these include a human-rated launch vehicle for carrying the crew safely to space, a life-support system to provide an earth-like environment to the crew in space, crew emergency escape provision and evolving crew management aspects for training, recovery and rehabilitation of crew.

These missions will also test the technology included in the spaceflight, such as an integrated air drop test, pad abort test, and test vehicle flights. Before the manned mission, unmanned missions will be conducted to examine the safety and reliability of all systems.

On Sunday, Somnath said that Isro prefers woman fighter test pilots or female scientists for the human space flight mission, the PTI report said. He added that Isro will send a female humanoid, a robot resembling a human, in its unmanned Gaganyaan spacecraft next year. “Right now, the initial candidates are to be from Air Force fighter test pilots...they are a bit different category,” he said in a press conference, a day after the successful test flight.

Geared with the success of Chandrayaan-3 and Aditya-L1, India could also be focusing on entering the space tourism market, which has witnessed rapid growth in recent years. Gaganyaan is also a precursor for India’s goal of setting up its own space station by 2035, which was recently announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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