Hit by disruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the launch of India's unmanned space mission under the first leg of Gaganyaan, planned for December 2020, is likely to be delayed, sources said. It was part of the two unmanned missions to be undertaken by the Indian Space Research Organisation ahead of the planned launch of India's maiden human spaceflight under 'Gaganyaan' in December 2021.
The likely delay in the first unmanned mission was recently conveyed to the Space Commission, the apex policy making body on space related issues. The Space Commission is headed by ISRO Chairman and Department of Space Secretary K Sivan.
Two years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the human space mission in his Independence Day address. The Gaganyaan mission aims to send a three-member crew to space for a period of five to seven days by 2022 when India completes 75 years of Independence.
The ISRO had started planning for the mission accordingly. The first unmanned mission was planned in December 2020, the second unmanned mission in June 2021. The final and the main component, the manned mission of Gaganyaan, was scheduled six months later in December 2021, much before the 2022 deadline.
ISRO had earlier indicated that there would be a delay in several missions as the space body's work has been hit by disruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Among the major projects that have been affected are Chandrayaan-3 and Gaganyaan. Chandrayaan-3, the third mission to Moon, was scheduled later this year.
The sources said that efforts are on to stick to the deadline of 2022 for launching the human space mission. "We will not be able to meet deadline for the December 2020 launch of the unmanned mission. The coronavirus pandemic has led to several disruptions. This was also recently conveyed to the Space Commission," a source said.
The sources added that staff members from ISRO's different centres were infected. Only essential and process related work is on. Also, the related industry has been affected. Even the training of four astronauts in Russia was hit due to the pandemic. However, the training has now resumed.
"Even if we are not able to launch the manned mission by December 2021, we have eight months to cover up for the time we have lost," the source said. The spacecraft will be placed in a low earth orbit of 300-400 kilometres. The total programme cost is expected to be less than Rs 10,000 crores.
In June, Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, had said even though because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the training of four Indian astronauts in Russia had to be halted, yet the opinion of Chairman ISRO and the scientific team is that there is a cushion period kept both in the training programme and launch deadline. The training of astronauts has now been resumed and the launch is scheduled to take place as planned, before the 75th anniversary of India's independence in 2022, he had said.