The two unmanned flights under the Gaganyaan mission will happen next year with the first as soon as January, said Union minister of state for the department of space Dr Jitendra Singh. The third, carrying an Indian crew will happen in 2023, the minister added.

India’s first manned flight was originally scheduled to happen before India completed 75 years of Independence on August 15, 2022 as announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018, but the mission was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic which affected the manufacturing and testing of systems and subsystems as well as the training of the crew (in Russia).

Singh is hoping that the manned flight coincides with the country’s deep-sea mission. “The timing should be such that we send a man to space just as we send a man 5,000 metres down in the ocean. The deep ocean exploration mission was running a little behind, but now it has caught up and we have already tested a module,” said Singh.

A module developed under the Samudrayaan mission of the Ministry of Earth Sciences was submerged to 600 metres depth off the Chennai coast in October end. An unmanned module will first be tested at the depth of over 5,000 metres before humans are sent in it.

“Our unmanned vehicle is now ready to go. Around a year or year-and-a-half after the unmanned mission we will be ready to send humans,” the minister said.

This declaration comes even as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been lagging behind on its routine launches such as that of earth observation satellites on account of the pandemic. India has conducted only four launch missions in the last two years. In comparison, China has conducted at least 40 missions this year itself, setting a global record.

All of ISRO’s big ticket missions such as the launch of the first solar mission Aditya L-1, space observatory XPoSat, and the third lunar mission Chandrayaan-3 have been deferred. As HT reported earlier, the space agency is unlikely to finish the three missions – two Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and one Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) mission carrying earth observation satellites – that were planned for this year after the second wave of the pandemic.