Several tests are under way for crew module, crew escape system, electronics, intelligence, software: ISRO chief S. Somanath

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has planned to launch the Gaganyaan test vehicle for a crew abort mission this year, its Chairman S. Somanath said here on Saturday.

“Several tests are under way for crew module, crew escape system, electronics, intelligence, software at many centres. We are developing a crew module, a training module, astronaut training, display systems, crew training facilities and simulators. This year, we aim to demonstrate a crew escape system, which is the first step. Next year, we will do an unmanned crew mission and recover the module. Then we will again test crew escape systems two times with improvements based on observation. Currently, we are targeting a human space flight in 2023,” he said during his visit to the Karunya Institute of Technology and Sciences.

Mr. Somanath said, “Primarily, ISRO has been the only space agency [in India]. So they [the Central government] want private entities to come in not only as suppliers of space items but also as those who build rockets, satellites and applications on their own and operate them.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June announced a space policy. The ISRO Chairman said that under the Space Policy 2022, “we would allow private entities to own and operate satellites. This is a very big change. All the satellites of India are currently owned only by ISRO. And every television broadcasting channel is linked only through ISRO, and this is going to change.”

“This will change not only communication but also remote-sensing. Private entities can own imaging satellites, they can take photographic images, they can use value-added products…” he added.

He said complete ownership would be allowed for Indian companies and foreign direct investments would be allowed up to 70%; government approval will be required for investments over and above the ceiling. “Private entities can design, develop and launch [rockets and satellites] also. They can launch from Sriharikota. We will provide a launchpad or they can build a new launchpad.”

“All this will create more markets and avenues in the space sector; that is our goal,” said Mr. Somanath, who is also the Secretary of the Department of Space.

He said, “We are also planning a GSLV MK-III launch — for a commercial launch for the first time — for a web satellite in September or October this year. The agency plans a Small Satellite Launch Vehicle for private companies this year and the first launch will be at the end of July or the beginning of August. After this development, ISRO will not operate [the satellite]. We will transfer the operation to the private industry,” he said.

Two PSLV launches and a NavIC (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System) satellite launch by the GSLV are planned before December, he said.

On the new spaceport at Kulasekarapattinam in Tamil Nadu, he told The Hindu that land acquisition was under way and the State government had handed over 2,000 acres to ISRO. “We are in the process of securing it and we must also get many approvals and we have to tender out the facility for construction. It will take 24 months to build the whole facility…”

When asked about the Agniveer scheme, he told reporters that “Agniveer will be very useful to protect our nation and ISRO is working on rockets and satellites to protect our nation. One can find the connection there. Like every other institution that will recruit Agniveer after four years, ISRO will also employ them.”

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