In yesterday 2021-22 Budget meeting, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman touched on various topics from agriculture, defence, economics, infrastructure, healthcare, science and even space during her speech. COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the timelines set out for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and several missions were postponed. Some of Sitharaman's announcements left the science community hoping for progress in some of India's ambitious space missions, like Chandrayaan 3 and India's first human space flight mission Gaganyaan.
The Department of Space (DoS) has been allocated Rs 13,949 crores in the annual budget, Rs 8,228 crores of which is earmarked for capital expenditure. This is almost Rs 900 crores more than what was allocated in 2019-20 (Rs 13,017.61 crores) and Rs 4,449 crores more than what was allotted in fiscal 2020-21 (Rs 9,500 crores), >PTI reported.
ISRO comes under the DoS and has outlined its plan for the next decade where it plans to work on developing a heavy-lift launch vehicle, semi-cryogenic stage, reusable launch vehicle, advance propulsion, next-generation avionics, advance materials, dynamic space applications and efficient integration of space-based services as well as advanced space science missions. It will also be focusing on three main missions - Gaganyaan, Mangalyaan-2, and Shukrayaan.
The New Space India Limited (NSIL), a newly-formed public sector undertaking under DoS, is being given a budget of Rs 700 crore. It will execute the upcoming 53rd mission of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLV-CS51) launch. The mission will carry Brazil's primary payload AmazÃ´nia-1 and the secondary payloads will be Indian satellites including Anand, SatishSat and UnitySat.
"The New Space India Limited, a PSU under the Department of Space, will execute the PSLV-CS51, carrying the Amazonia Satellite from Brazil, along with a few smaller Indian satellites," Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in her budget speech.
At the Budget meeting, Sitharaman gave an update about the Gaganyaan mission, saying four Indian astronauts have been sent to Russia to train as part of the joint partnership between ISRO and the Russian space agency Roscosmos. The candidate astronauts began training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) from February last year. She said that the first uncrewed mission will take place in December 2021.
The ISRO space suit for astronauts in the Gaganyaan mission, displayed at the Bengaluru Space Expo. Image: Twitter/Nagarjun Dwarkanath
Along with the training of the astronauts, even ISRO surgeons will be trained in space-related medical situations. Support will also come from France's speciality space clinic MEDES (French Institute of Space Medicine and Physiology), where most space surgeons in the world undergo training. Last year an ISRO official said, "The Indian space surgeons will also go to France next year once the coronavirus situation eases."
According to a PTI report, the Gaganyaan mandate states that two uncrewed missions need to be undertaken prior to a manned mission. ISRO wanted to send Indian to space before the country would complete its 75th year of independence. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing things to a halt and then slowing down the progress, the timelines had to change.
Earlier, the unmanned missions were slated for launch first in December 2020 and then in July 2021 with the first manned mission being scheduled for launch in December 2021. However, now the first uncrewed launch will take place in December 2021 moving back the timelines. Now the crewed mission is expected to take place well into 2022.
The Gaganyaan mission is India's first human spaceflight mission to the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and will have three male astronauts being sent to space for a period of five to seven days. The Rs 10,000 crore will use the GSLV MkIII rocket to launch them into space, and it is currently being modified to sustain human beings in space.
The finance minister also made a brief mention of the third moon mission " Chandrayaan-3. She said, "2021 will be the year of Chandrayaan-3." This will be the successor to the Chandrayaan-2 mission that launched in July 2019 and was supposed to land on the far side of the moon, but the lander lost communication and crashed instead.
Chandrayaan 2 comprised of a lander-rover module and an orbiter which is currently performing its science duties. This mission is also supposed to launch this year but the Indian space agency has provided no actual timeline has. Chandrayaan 3 will have similar components " a lander and a rover " excluding the orbiter as it is working fine. This also means that the mission will cost a lot less " an estimated Rs 6.15 billion, compared to Chandrayaan 2 which set ISRO back by Rs 9.7 billion.
The third moon mission will touch down in the Aitken basin, on the Earth's natural satellite, which is an important location for any future sustainable lunar habitation.
In order to ensure that the lander reaches safely and the rover has a fighting chance, ISRO is leaving no stone unturned. It has built a dummy moon crater basin in a village in Bangalore to allow the lander to practice its descent. This project is thought to have cost them at least Rs 24.2 lakhs, as per sources, but no official word has come from ISRO on the project cost.
Deep ocean mission
The government has allocated Rs 4,000 crore to conduct deep-ocean survey projects which means they will study the oceans from space and help in marine and oceanic biodiversity conservation for the next five years.
Sitharaman said, "Our oceans are a storehouse of living and non-living resources, to understand this realm we will launch deep ocean mission with a budget outlay of over Rs 4,000 crore over five years."