HELSINKI — India took a step towards independent human spaceflight capabilities early Saturday with a successful uncrewed emergency escape system test.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched a liquid-propellant single-stage Test Vehicle Demonstration 1 (TV-D1) from Satish Dhawan Space Center at 12:30 a.m. Eastern, Oct. 21.

The test vehicle launched the unpressurized test version of the Gaganyaan crew module (CM). The Crew Escape System (CES) separated from the test vehicle 61 seconds after liftoff at an altitude of 11.9 kilometers, traveling just beyond the speed of sound. 

The CM separated from the CES at 16.9 km while traveling at 550 kilometers per hour. A drogue parachute was then deployed to slow descent of the CM. 

The CM descended into the sea using its main parachute once below 2.5 km. The CM was then recovered by teams in the Bay of Bengal, around 10 km off the island of Sriharikota.

“I am very happy to announce the successful accomplishment of the TV-D1 mission,” S Somanath, ISRO chairman, said after the launch.

The test verified that motors can safely carry a crew away from the launch vehicle in the case of emergency. A first attempt went into a hold five seconds out from the scheduled launch time triggered by sensor data from the launch vehicle.

India hopes to launch its Gaganyaan human spaceflight mission in 2025, following further tests. This includes three uncrewed orbital test flights of the Gaganyaan Crew Module starting in 2024.

A successful crewed mission would see the nation join Russia, the United States and China as the only countries to have achieved independent human spaceflight capabilities. Astronauts are already in training for the mission.

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 struggles to follow the schedule.

The Saturday test however follows a series of successes and policy shifts in 2023. India became the fourth country to soft-land on the moon on Aug. 23 with its Chandrayaan-3 mission. The successful launch of Aditya-L1, India’s first solar observatory, followed Sept. 2. The spacecraft is currently heading to Sun-Earth Lagrange point 1.

India Prime Minister this week announced the target of 2040 to get astronauts onto the moon. It also plans a space station around 2035. The country also aims to make itself a space industry hub following reforms this year to allow greater space for commercial endeavors and foreign investment in the space sector.

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...