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Reaching for low-Earth orbit. India’s crew module.

Reaching for low-Earth orbit. India’s crew module.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited

India Unveils Astronaut Capsule

NEW DELHI—India is revving up plans to become the fourth nation to send humans into space. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) today unveiled a critical technology in that endeavor: an indigenously made astronaut capsule.

ISRO is planning to hoist the test capsule into space during the first experimental flight of India’s latest rocket, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III. The new rocket, capable of lifting 10 tons into a low-Earth orbit, is slated for liftoff as early as May or June from Sriharikota spaceport on the coast of the Bay of Bengal.

ISRO is seeking $2.5 billion from the government for a human space flight program; officials say that astronauts could be sent into space 7 years after final approval is given. The administration of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has so far balked at committing to the pricey project. Instead, it has given ISRO $36 million for the development of critical technologies for human space flight.

India’s human space capsule, fabricated by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, is designed for a weeklong space mission carrying two or three astronauts in a low-Earth orbit. ISRO Chair K. Radhakrishnan says that no human crew or animals will be aboard the capsule during the test.

Until now only Russia, the United States, and China have managed to send humans into Earth orbit. The last Indian in space was Rakesh Sharma, who took part in an Indo-Russian mission. “I have no doubt that ISRO, riding on its past success, will be able to overcome technological challenges and come out trumps,” he tells ScienceInsider.