On the Chandrayaan-3 mission, Somnath said that ISRO was looking at a launch window around June-July this year

In another four months, India would take its first step to send a human to space with ISRO launching its maiden crew module abort mission by April-May followed by a second such mission after three months and an unmanned mission by 2023 end, clearing the decks for the much awaited 2024 voyage to send an Indian to space.

The next year would see two more abort missions – four such missions are planned to ensure complete crew safety, which is central to the ambitious plan – and a second unmanned mission before a crew of one or two Indian Air Force officers would take a flight to space in an indigenous spacecraft four decades after Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma, who flew in a Russian craft.

"The first abort mission (TV-D1) would be happening around April-May followed by another such mission (TV-D2) three months later. There will be an unmanned mission by the end of the year. Next year, there will be two more abort missions and a second unmanned mission before human space flight,” S Somnath, chairperson of the Indian Space Research Organisation said at a press conference on the sidelines of the 108th session of the Indian Science Congress.

“It is not like sending a satellite to orbit. We cannot take chances when it comes to human beings. We are being cautious and careful. Globally it took about 10 years for countries to develop human space flight capability, which we are doing in four years.”

The ISRO chairman flagged the lack of industrial ecosystem for the space sector as one of the key reasons behind the delays in realising the manned flight mission.

For instance, the space agency needed crucial environmental control and life support systems for the crew module but could not import them because the imported systems were coming with exorbitant price tags and there were no Indian versions available. The ISRO scientists have to develop the systems in-house.

On the Chandrayaan-3 mission, Somnath said that ISRO was looking at a launch window around June-July this year. “All the tests to ruggedize the payload have been completed. The satellite is fully integrated. The orbiter, lander and rover are ready and we are looking at the right slot for the launch by GSLV-MK-III. The next best days are coming in June-July,” he said.

The ISRO chairman said the second development flight of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) will happen next month. The SSLV flight would be used to test a space-based aircraft monitoring system.

"The ADS-B receiver gets all the details of an aircraft. Currently, the Air Traffic Controller gets these signals, but there are certain blind spots -- about 30% of airspace across the globe -- to which ATC doesn't have access. Now, we have developed a space-based ADS-B technology that would be tested on the SSLV flight," said D K Singh, Deputy Director, Advanced Technology Area, Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad.

The first flight of SSLV in August 2022 was unsuccessful. Once the SSLV is realised, India would be in a position to launch satellites weighing up to 500 kg to low earth orbits within weeks.

Singh said ISRO was also working on a special high-throughput satellite that would expose Indians to the in-flight browsing experience, but it would take another year before the satellite would be ready for launch.