HELSINKI — India plans to conduct a first uncrewed orbital test flight for its Gaganyaan human spaceflight program in July this year.

India will conduct three uncrewed test flights before a full crewed mission next year, S. Somanath, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), told Asianet News Feb. 28.

The G1 mission, slated for July, will be the first test of the Gaganyaan Crew Module in space. It will launch on a human-rated LVM 3 rocket from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. Vyommitra, a humanoid robot, will be aboard the mission. 

The mission will test the crew module in a 400-kilometer orbit, orbital maneuvers and its reentry and recovery. 

The second uncrewed test flight, G2, will take place late in 2024. A third test flight, G3, and the full, crewed H1 Gaganyaan mission are scheduled for 2025, Somanath said. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and ISRO unveiled four Indian astronaut-designates. The crew of the H1 mission will be drawn from the quartet. The four—Group Captain Prasanth Balakrishnan Nair, Group Captain Ajit Krishnan, Group Captain Angad Pratap and Wing Commander Shubhanshu Shukla—are all Indian Air Force pilots.

H1 will carry a crew of one or two astronauts, Somanath said Feb. 28. The crew module can carry three astronauts. One of the four astronaut-designates will also fly to the International Space Station on the Axiom 4 mission for NASA later this year.

ISRO conducted a successful uncrewed emergency escape system test in October last year. The agency announced progress in the qualification of the CE20 cryogenic engine for the LVM 3 Feb, completing 39 hot fire tests. 

India aims to become only the fourth country with independent spaceflight capabilities, following the Soviet Union/Russia, the United States and China.

ISRO has suffered numerous delays in the Gaganyaan program. It stated in 2018, following announcement of the program, that it planned its first uncrewed launch for December 2020. The outbreak of COVID-19 added to challenges in following this schedule.

India has announced a number of ambitious space ambitions in recent months. These include greatly increasing its launch rate and supporting commercial activities, establishing a space station around 2035 and a target of 2040 to put its astronauts on the moon.

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. Andrew has previously lived in China and reported from major space conferences there. Based in Helsinki, Finland, he has written for National Geographic, New Scientist, Smithsonian Magazine, Sky...