A simulation of the proposed Indian Space Station in earth's orbit

Bangalore: Just weeks after the PMO made India’s space roadmap public in October, ISRO appears confident of building the first unit of the space station in just five years. In fact, ISRO, whose roadmap for 2047 — 100 years of Indian Independence — has multiple lunar missions planned, is also planning to eventually offer Moon tourism.

A space station and the technologies ISRO would have realised to make it a reality will serve the space agency well in implementing human mission to Moon, while Gaganyaan, which is being implemented in phases, will also give ISRO a host of new technologies.

ISRO chairman S Somanath told TOI: “We’ve not given the Prime Minister an over-ambitious target. 2040 is 17 years away and that’s a good time to develop technologies to send humans to Moon. Our work on the proposed space station too is progressing aggressively and we should be able to have the first unit ready by 2028.”

Earlier, initial plans show that ISRO is looking to build a space station — at an altitude of 120 km to 140 km — that can hold at least three astronauts in space for a period of time. These plans are subject to change.

If the first unit is ready by 2028 as Somanath has anticipated, India should be able to build the whole station as per the 2035 target announced by the PMO with a margin of a year or two.

NGLV Key For Station

“...We are very clear that the first unit will be achievable by 2028 as it is possible to do that using our current launch vehicle. Subsequently, we’ll need a bigger launch vehicle, the NGLV (Next Generation launch vehicle). We are hopeful that the NGLV will be ready around 2034-35. This is crucial to build the full station,” Somanath said.

A big team from ISRO is already working on the proposed NGLV, whose architecture has been finalised. The team has even submitted a preliminary report which elaborates on what the rocket should look like — the technological input, approaches to be followed, where it should be done, what kind of manufacturing, etc,.

Somanath had said earlier that ISRO wants it to be at least partially (the boosters) reusable, use new generation propulsion, have cryogenic propulsion in case ISRO needs to improve payload and it must be manufacturable using the materials currently available in India.

Lunar Roadmap 2047

Further, as per ISRO plans made public by Somanath, the space agency’s roadmap for 2047 is dominated by several lunar missions, divided into three major phases: “Technology build up phase (2023-28), lunar reach-out phase (2028-40) and lunar base phase (2040-47)”. This journey would be punctuated by several other missions like development of a newer rockets, human-rating of the same, building of the space station and more.

While work on Chandrayaan-4, a sample return mission, is already afoot, ISRO has plans of launching Chandrayaan-5, 6 and 7 in the ‘lunar reach-out phase’. “There will be several uncrewed lunar missions before we attempt the human mission to Moon,” Somanath said.

In Chandrayaan-5, ISRO hopes for a long term mission that employs radioisotope heater units (RHUs) — small devices that can provide heat through radioactive decay — and other technologies to manage the extreme temperature variations on Moon. By Chandrayaan-6, the plans are to look at building habitats while the follow-up Chandrayaan-7 would look at scaling up infrastructure building on Moon.

None of these missions are final or approved by the government as on date. But going by how aggressive Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been on using Space, ISRO is expected to get the required backing at least at present.