by Morris Jones
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Jan 05, 2012
India's decision to stretch out its plans for an indigenous astronaut launch to 2020 or beyond will probably disappoint some. It's a long way in the future, but the decision is an unavoidable reality check for India's space program.
India has been dabbling in the development of an indigenous space capsule for years, and proposed launching such a spacecraft atop its powerful Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), currently the most powerful operational rocket in India.
The first launch was mooted for 2016 or soon afterwards.
The concept looked good on paper, but it overlooked a major problem. Put bluntly, the GSLV is unreliable as a satellite launcher, and is totally unsuitable for launching astronauts.
The shoddy performance record of GSLV has not been suitably resolved by ISRO, India's space agency. GSLV could possibly evolve into a reliable launch system, but it will take a long time to do this.
It will require more flights and evaluations. It will require an unbroken record of several successful launches. Until India can do this, GSLV should not be considered for astronaut launches.
India has also seemed unsure of its plans for co-operating with other nations. It is known that India had been exploring capsule development plans with a major US aerospace corporation.
In a previous article, this writer proposed that India should consider using a foreign launch vehicle with an Indian space capsule, as a means of avoiding the GSLV.
Recent government statements rule this out. India's astronaut launch system will be purely Indian. This will have its benefits, but it will also increase the complexity of the project.
Developing a crew capsule and a reliable rocket to launch it will take time. Giving the project another decade sounds realistic, assuming that the Indian government does not want to pump huge sums of money for a fast-track program.
Previously, the overall tone of discussions on India's astronaut program suggested disorganisation and uncertainty over its direction. It seemed to be more of a panicked reaction to China's success in human spaceflight than a carefully orchestrated project.
This new policy is merely a seed, and has yet to fully develop. But it's a move in the right direction. It remains to be seen if a realistic program can be designed and sustained in the decade to follow.
Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst and writer. Email morrisjonesNOSPAMhotmail.com. Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email.
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