India is expected to decide this year whether to embark on a course leading to the demonstration of

a domestic human spaceflight capability around the middle of the next decade, according to G. Madhavan Nair, the nation’s top space official.

Speaking at a luncheon hosted by the

Center for Strategic and International Studies here Jan. 30, Nair, whose titles include chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said the agency

intends to seek formal government approval this year for a $2.5 billion program to launch two astronauts into orbit by 2016.

Only three nations – Russia, the United States and China – possess the independent means to put people

in orbit.

B. Suresh, director of the India’s VikramSarabhai Space Centre, told Space News in a brief interview following

the luncheon

that ISRO is proposing to use its

Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) to launch a two-person ballistic capsule into a 400-kilometer-high orbit within seven or eight years of program start.

Suresh said India possesses most of the technology it needs for the mission with the exception of a life support system, thermal-protection shielding for the returning capsule and a solid working knowledge of some of the finer points of hypersonic flight.

In addition to the planned orbital space shot – something Russia and the United States first accomplished more than 40 years ago followed by China in 2003 – ISRO is working on a reusable, two-stageto-orbit space plane. While a suborbital proof-of-concept demonstration is tracking toward a 2012 flight, Nair said the envisioned system would not be built until around 2020 or


Nair said India’s interest in human spaceflight is part of the nation’s effort to broaden its space program from one historically focused on Earth observation, and communications and weather satellites to one stressing planetary exploration and international scientific cooperation.

Chandrayaan-1, a lunar orbiter launching this year, is a case in point. In addition to being India’s first planetary probe, the spacecraft features substantial

international cooperation, with two U.S.-built instruments and four European instruments riding along with a suite of Indian sensors.

Nair said India will work with Russia on Chandrayaan-2, a follow-on mission that seeks to put an instrumented rover on the lunar

surface in 2011 or 2012.

In addition running ISRO, Nair is chairman of India’s Space Commission and secretary of India’s Department of Space