The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has successfully executed the first test flight for the Gaganyaan Mission, the country’s human spaceflight program. The space agency’s TV-D1 rocket lifted off at 10 a.m. from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. The launch had been initially scheduled for 8.45 a.m. but was delayed due to engine ignition issues. ISRO chief S Somanath said the anomaly’s cause has been identified and corrected.
The mission is crucial to Isro’s plans to send a crew into orbit on an uncrewed Gaganyaan spacecraft in 2023 and later onto the Moon and Mars. The astronauts would spend three days in a 400-km orbit and return to Earth. The Gaganyaan spacecraft has been fitted with cameras and instruments that will gather data that will be used for future tests and the final mission, Isro junior minister for science Jitendra Singh said. Singh added that the space agency will also send a female humanoid robot called Vyommitra – Sanskrit for “space friend” – on an uncrewed Gaganyaan mission next year.
During Saturday’s launch, the TV-D1 rocket was tasked with jettisoning the Crew Module, with the astronauts inside, to a safe distance from the launch vehicle if any problems occurred during the liftoff. After descending using parachutes, the crew module will splash down in the Bay of Bengal. The system is based on similar models used by NASA and SpaceX rockets as part of their contingency plan in case of an emergency during a launch, ISRO says. The data from the test will help ISRO improve and fine-tune the system when it is used to carry astronauts on Gaganyaan, ISRO says.
PM Modi took to X (formerly Twitter) on Saturday to hail the success of the test flight. He wrote that the launch takes India “one step closer” to its first human space flight program. He added that the successful flight was a “major milestone in the nation’s journey towards reaching Mars by 2035 and sending Indian astronauts to space by 2040.”
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin congratulated ISRO on the successful test flight. He tweeted that it is a “major achievement” and “a proud moment for the entire nation.”
This was the second attempt for the launch, as the first one was aborted at 8:45 a.m. due to an error in engine ignition. ISRO attributed the error to an electrical fault caused by a “single cell” in the fuel cell at the time of ignition. It was later fixed, and the second launch was conducted at the designated time. The prime minister also wished the astronauts training for the Gaganyaan program well in their preparations. He also wished Isro success in all its endeavors.