BANGALORE: The Indian Space Station, which the Indian Space Research Organisation plans to put in place in five to seven years, will have space for three astronauts, sources told TOI.

The space station will be an extension of the human spaceflight programme Gaganyaan. TOI has learned that the initial designs for the space station – still in a nascent stage – suggest a 20-ton modular abode in the low earth orbit (LEO), at an altitude of 120 km to 140 km.

The International Space Station (ISS), jointly managed by the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, orbits at an average altitude of 400 km. Announcing the project in June this year, ISRO chairman K Sivan had said: “We don’t want to be part of ISS. Our station, which will be set up in five to seven years, won’t be very big.”

A space station, with its zero-gravity environment and exposure to space, provides a unique laboratory for scientific research that is difficult to be replicated on Earth. That cells and chemicals behave in a different way in space enables scientists to study variant behaviours and their applications. Some of the major experiments being conducted at ISS include those on Parkinson’s disease and resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapy. Research in space have applications also in material development, disaster relief, food and water conservation and waste management.

Much of this, however, will depend on the success of Gaganyaan, which envisages sending three Indian astronauts to space and bringing them back in the same crew module in 2022. ISRO plans to use technologies from Gaganyaan for the space station. These include orbital module, life-support system and human-rated launch vehicles for space station program.

ISRO has been working on space docking technology, which is key to manned space missions, for three years. The technology, for which the department of space has earmarked Rs 10 crore, will allow transfer of humans from one vehicle or spacecraft to another and refuel spacecraft. ISRO is likely to conduct a docking experiment next year.

ISRO officials said private firms will be part of the space station program. “They will make significant contributions,” said a scientist. Sivan had earlier said that Gaganyaan will include participation from about 650 industries.