India plans to launch a “very small” space station with the aim of sending up its first manned mission by 2022, the country’s space agency announced on Thursday.
The planned mission, named the Gaganyaan (meaning “space vehicle” in Sanskrit), will launch in 2020 to coincide with commemorations of India’s 75th anniversary of independence from Britain at a cost of approximately $1.5 billion.
“We have to sustain the Gaganyaan program after the launch of the human space mission. In this context, India is planning to have its own space station,” said Dr. Kailasavadivoo Sivan, chairman of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), the Indian equivalent of NASA, at a press conference. “Our space station is going to be very small … useful to carry out experiments.”
“While navigation, communication, and Earth observation are going to be the bread and butter for us, it is missions such as Chandrayaan [meaning moon vehicle], Mangalyaan [meaning Mars Vehicle] and Gaganyaan that excite the youth, unite the nation and also pave a technological seed for the future,” he continued. “This is our ambition. We want to have a separate space station. We will launch a small module for conducting microgravity experiments.”
The Gaganyaan mission is scheduled to send a crew of two to three people up to space for up to a week, with the spacecraft traveling within in a low Earth orbit of 300-400 km (186-248 miles). The ISRO is currently drawing up plans of how to set up a space station that it will submit to the Indian government for approval.
The announcement of plans for a space station came just a day after the IRSO revealed that it would launch an unmanned lunar mission next month in an effort to become the fourth country – after the United States, Russia, and China – to successfully land on the moon.
India has been known for its ambitious space projects since the 1960s, although such plans have been a source of criticism due to the widespread poverty across the nation of 1.3 billion people. In March, the ISRO announced that it had destroyed a low-orbiting satellite in a missile test that Prime Minister Narendra Modi argued was proof that India had become one of the world’s “space superpowers.”
“In the journey of every nation, there are moments that bring utmost pride and have an historic impact on generations to come. One such moment is today,” he said in a rare televised address. “India has registered its name in the list of space superpowers. Until now, only three countries had achieved this feat.”