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“Upar se Bharat kaisa dikhta hai aapko?” When Former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma, who was a part of the Soviet Interkosmos programme, he replied, “I can say without any hesitation, saare jahaan se accha.”
When Rakesh Sharma ventured into space on April 3, 1984, it was a moment of pride for the whole nation—Sharma became the first Indian to travel to space. However, he was onboard the Soviet Soyuz T-11 spacecraft with Soviet cosmonauts and was participating in a Soviet space expedition.
Now, more than three decades later, India is gearing up to launch its own manned space mission. Announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018, ‘Gaganyaan’ will make India only the fourth country to send humans into space. So far, besides Russia, only the US and China have managed to successfully launch their human-crewed space missions.
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Gaganyaan will not only be a significant feat for India’s space ambitions but will further pave the way for future space missions for India.
Commissioned in 2007, the mission is expected to be completed in 2024 with a budget of around INR 10,000 crores. The spacecraft, called Gaganyaan, will carry three astronauts to the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at a distance of 400 kilometres from Earth.
Prior to that, two uncrewed missions are also being planned. The first uncrewed flight, called ‘Gaganyaan 1’, is scheduled to launch next year on a GSLV Mark III rocket.
The spacecraft will be launched from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Srihariikota. Stakeholders involved in the programme include the Indian Armed Forces, DRDO labs, Indian Industries, Premier Academic and Research institutions and CSIR labs.
“We are looking at a capsule that will first go in the LEO, orbit the Earth for a few hours, and come back. This will be followed by a docking experiment where two or more spacecraft will demonstrate docking, and will merge with one another to form a slightly bigger superstructure,” Dr Chaitanya Giri, Space Policy and Diplomacy Consultant told AIM.
The main objective of the Gaganyaan Programme is to achieve autonomy in access to space—providing both tangible and intangible benefits to the development of the nation with maximal industry and academia participation and collaboration, ISRO said.
“The Gaganyaan programme would lay the foundation for a sustained and affordable human and robotic programme for India in the long run. This will also create a broader academia and industry participation and partnership in taking up the developmental and R&D activities.”
“This will leverage India’s position strategically in the global arena and be a potent international policy tool. It will generate ample scope for employment generation and human resource development in advanced science and R&D activities,” Anil Prakash, director general at Satcom Industry Association (SIA) India, told AIM.
Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh, while speaking in the Rajya Sabha, said that ISRO is developing indigenous technological capabilities for space tourism. Gaganyaan could possibly open the doors for space tourism in India. Aakash Porwal, Founder of Space Aura, also concurs with this belief.
“Space Tourism can potentially generate several million dollars in revenue. With a good track record of ISRO’s successful launches and accomplishing the Gaganyaan mission, we can build confidence and attract significant space tourists from India and globally.”
“India can focus on its strengths by providing exceptionally curated experiences to space tourists through a fusion of Indian culture and space travel and enable a profound individual experience during this epic journey. I believe India can be amongst the top destinations for space tourism globally,” Porwal told AIM.
Prakash further added that India is known for its cost-effective missions to Moon and Mars, and many countries are seeking India over the US and EU for launch rideshare and satellite operations.
Giri, on the other hand, is sceptical when it comes to leisure tourism. “You don’t have that many ultra-rich people ready to go into space and spend money, and many of them do not have the necessary health parameters,” he said. However, once India has its space station running, it will open the doors for business tourism.
“Space tourism will actually be space business tourism where companies in the electronics or pharmaceutical industries will want to avail facilities on the space station to carry out their experiments, which would help them manufacture novel products and which cannot be manufactured or researched here on Earth because they require some sort of microgravity or microgravity conditions, weather conditions and more,” he added.
India’s space aspiration
Gaganyaan will also pave the way for more futuristic space projects, most notably India’s plan to build its space station by 2030.
“Gaganyaan is part of a series of projects that will happen in the next 15–20 years, where India will want to have sustained human presence in the LEO Orbit,” Giri said.
In 2019, former chairman of ISRO, K. Sivan said that India aims to have a separate space station for its purposes and aspires to launch a small module for microgravity experiments.
The space station will be placed in orbit 400 kilometres from Earth and will weigh around 20 tonnes. Astronauts would be able to stay at the station for around 15–20 days.
ISRO is also working on future satellite missions like Aditya L-1, Chandrayaan-3 mission, Gaganyaan mission, Venus Orbiter Mission, and NISAR mission, among several others. “The upcoming missions will enhance the technological capabilities of the nation and will make a significant contribution to scientific research and development,” Prakash said.
Besides, India’s space economy is also expected to grow significantly in the coming years. According to a joint report by EY and the Indian Space Association (ISpA), the Indian space economy is expected to reach USD 13 billion by 2025.
“India is on the path to become the third largest economy on the planet. This means India will have the economic might to carry out several missions that were not possible earlier. So, our investment in the space sector will grow tremendously along with our ability to drive economic benefit out of it. I assume that by 2047, almost one-third of the global space economy will be run by India,” Giri said.
Prakash likewise believes India is sure to secure a leading part in the world’s most elite space clubs alongside Russia, US, and China by 2050: “According to Dr Somanath, the current chairman of ISRO, India—with the right push from the government and private sector, the Space Industry in India can garner a 10% market share at USD 50 billion by 2025, a 30% market share by 2035, and 50% market share at USD.75 trillion by 2047.”
“Space missions will infuse the entire ecosystem. Industry and academia will have a major role to play in such missions.”
“India’s greatest advantage is the relatively low cost of its scientific manpower and missions, the burgeoning aerospace industry and for being one of the largest defence industries in the world,” Prakash concluded.