India’s Human Space Missions Slip into 2020s, Foreign Involvement Nixed

Mockup of India's human spacecraft (Credit: ISRO)

India’s plan to launch astronauts into space on its own appears to have slipped into the 2020s, while the possible involvement of foreign partners in the effort has been nixed.

On Friday, it was announced that ISRO had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Indian Air Force (IAF) for the selection of astronauts beginning no earlier than 2020. In late January 2010, ISRO announced a $4.8 billion plan to launch astronauts aboard its own rocket and spacecraft in 2016.

The announcement of the MOU came from Lieutenant General H L Kakria, director general of the Army Medical Corps:

“IAF has entered into an MoU with the ISRO for long term space research. ISRO has supplied it with lot of equipments and the provisional time for first selection is 2020 and the original thing is likely to take place much later,” Kakria told reporters here.

“ISRO has supplied IAF with equipments worth Rs 20 crore and it is in the process of setting up facility for selecting the persons who will participate in the mission,” he said.

Maintaining that the mission would be completely indigenous, Kakria said all equipment required for the project would be supplied by ISRO and there is no collaboration with any foreign company or country.

This last statement is quite significant. Several U.S. aerospace companies, most notably Boeing, have been exploring joint ventures with ISRO and the nation’s aerospace sector following the lifting of U.S. sanctions against India last January.

Boeing has been exploring cooperation with India in cryogenic upper stage technology and in human spaceflight, including the development of equipment and components and possibly even the sale of its CST-100 human spacecraft for launch on Indian rockets. Those options would appear to be off the table based on Kakria’s statement.

Kakria gave no reasons for either the delay or the decision to build a completely indigenous system. Indian reporters — true to form — don’t seem to have asked about either issue, at least according to the few accounts I can find in India’s English language media.