Isro chairman K. Sivan
Isro chairman K. Sivan (left) with Minister of State in the Department of Atomic Energy and Department of Space Jitendra Singh at a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday. Image Credit: PTI

Dubai: India is planning to launch its own space station by 2030, joining the league of US, Russia and China to an elite space club.

“We are planning to have a space station for India, our own space station. We will launch a small module for microgravity experiments... That is our ambition,” Dr K Sivan, chairman of India’s space agency ISRO, said. The only countries that have had space stations so far are the US, Russia, China and a consortium of nations that own the International Space Station (ISS).

While India is targeting 2030 as the date to launch the 20-tonne space station, more details will emerge after ISRO’s maiden manned mission, called Gaganyaan, is complete in 2022, Dr Sivan told reporters in New Delhi. The preliminary plan for the space station is to accommodate astronauts for up to 20 days in space, and the project will be an extension of the Gaganyaan mission, he said. It will orbit Earth at an altitude of around 400km.

$74m

Is the cost of India’s unmanned Mars mission in 2014

The space station would open a new opportunity for other spacecraft to dock as well as conduct cross-collaboration experiments – especially since after 2024, China’s Tiangong is likely to be the only crewed space station in the fray, until India’s station takes to the skies.

“We have to sustain the Gaganyaan programme after the launch of the human space mission. In this context, India is planning to have its own space station,” Dr Sivan said, adding that Indian agencies would execute the project independently without collaborating with any other country.

Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft Lander module
Scientists and employees view the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft Lander module, right, and Orbiter module, left, at the Indian Space Research Organization Satellite Integration and Test Establishment (ISITE) at the ISRO headquarters in Bengaluru, on Tuesday, June 12, 2019. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Senior ISRO officials yesterday confirmed the plan to Gulf News and said more specific details for the mission were awaited. A detailed project report on setting up the space station will be submitted to the government after the Gaganyaan mission, they said.

Manned mission in 2022

A space station is a habitable spacecraft capable of supporting human crewmembers and designed to remain in space – most commonly as an artificial satellite in low Earth orbit – for an extended period of time. The ISS – currently the only fully functioning space station in orbit – is the ninth space station to be inhabited by crew, following the Soviet and Russian Salyut, Almaz and Mir stations as well as the US Skylab.

$79m

Is the cost of Chandrayaan-1, India’s first lunar mission

As part of the manned Gagayaan mission, India aims to send a 3-person crew to space for a period of seven days, with the spacecraft placed in a low Earth orbit of up between 300-400km. A National Advisory Council has been created and the selection of the crew for Gaganyan will begin in six months, Dr Jitendra Singh, India’s Minster of State for Space, said yesterday. The crew will undergo training both in India and outside for a year-and-a-half after that. The manned mission project was on track to be realised by India’s 75th Independence Day anniversary in 2022, he told reporters. “The government has already cleared a budget of Rs100 billion for the manned mission,” he said. While ISRO will use its GSLV MK-III launch vehicle with the necessary payload capability to launch Gaganyaan, two unmanned simulation missions will be launched in December 2020 and June 2021 from Andhra Pradesh’s Sriharikota to prepare for the manned flight.

Ready for dark side of the Moon

However, the focus of ISRO at the moment is on India’s second mission to the moon scheduled for July 15, which will attempt a controlled landing near the South Pole (or the Dark Side) of the moon, an uncharted territory so far. The unmanned mission, called Chandrayaan-2, which means “moon vehicle” in Sanskrit, will involve an orbiter, a lander and a rover, all built by ISRO. The mission, if successful, would make India only the fourth country behind the US, Russia and China to perform a “soft” landing on the moon and put a rover on it.

$144m

Is the projected cost of Chandrayaan-2, India's second lunar mission that takes off next month.

According to the ISRO chairman, the agency is planning launch two other missions to study the Sun and Venus, while joining the international space community for a manned mission to moon in the future. The mission to the Sun, named Aditya-L1, would be launched in 2020 and the mission to Venus in 2023.

In March, India said it shot down one of its own satellites, making it one of only four countries in the world to possess this technology.

$5.28b

Is the projected cost of the Gaganyaan project, India’s first manned mission to space in 2022.

What is a space station?

• A space station, also known as an orbital station or an orbital space station, is a spacecraft capable of supporting crewmembers, which is designed to remain in space (most commonly as an artificial satellite in low Earth orbit) for an extended period of time and for other spacecraft to dock.

• A space station is distinguished from other spacecraft used for human spaceflight by lack of major propulsion or landing systems. Instead, other vehicles transport people and cargo to and from the station.

• As of 2018, one fully functioning space station is in Earth orbit: the International Space Station (ISS), operational and permanently inhabited. It is the largest human-made body in low Earth orbit and can often be seen with the naked eye from Earth.

• The ISS is the ninth space station to be inhabited by crews, following the Soviet and later Russian Salyut, Almaz, Tiangong-1, Tiangong-2 and Mir stations as well as Skylab from the US. The station has been continuously occupied for 18 years and 221 days since the arrival of Expedition 1 on 2 November 2000. After the American Space Shuttle programme ended in 2011, Russian Soyuz rockets have become the only provider of transport for astronauts at the ISS.

• India, China, Russia, the US and a few private companies are all planning space stations for the coming decades.

• Today’s space stations are research platforms, used to study the effects of long-term space flight on the human body as well as to provide platforms for greater number and length of scientific studies than available on other space vehicles. Each crew member stays aboard the station for weeks or months, but rarely more than a year.

At a glance: India's future space projects

July 15, 2019: Launches second unmanned mission to the moon; after a journey of more than 50 days, ISRO’s lander will attempt a “soft” landing on the lunar surface on September 6.

2020: A mission to the Sun, named Aditya-L1, to be launched.

December 2020: First unmanned mission ahead of Gaganyaan to be launched from Andhra Pradesh’s Sriharikota to prepare for the manned flight.

June 2021: Second unmanned mission to be launched from Sriharikota to prepare for Gaganyaan.

2022: Maiden manned mission to space carrying up to 3 astronauts to be launched.

2023: A mission to study Venus to be launched.

2030: Own space station expected to be launched into orbit.