India to launch test of Gaganyaan crew capsule's emergency escape system this year

a crew capsule with inflated orange ball-shaped floats rests in an indoor pool during a test.
The Indian Space Research Organisation has tested recovery procedures for the Gaganyaan astronaut mission, which is targeted to launch to Earth orbit in 2024. (Image credit: ISRO)

After successful robotic missions to study the sun and the moon, India is making progress toward its delayed human spaceflight program, which now aims to send three astronauts to low Earth orbit (LEO) before the end of 2024.

The first high-altitude abort test to validate the crew escape system for India's upcoming Gaganyaan astronaut mission could launch in early October or November at the latest, according to officials at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Along with validating the crew escape system, the Test Vehicle Demonstration 1 (TV-D1) will also test drogue parachutes that are designed to stabilize the spacecraft and decelerate it during its reentry into Earth's atmosphere. The test mission will launch from the country's spaceport in Sriharikota, followed by a couple of uncrewed flights with a similar goal to test key technologies over the course of 2024, ISRO has previously said. 

Related: India tests parachutes for Gaganyaan crew capsule using a rocket sled (video)

The schedule for the first crewed mission, during which three astronauts will travel to LEO at an altitude of 250 miles (400 kilometers) for three days, will be decided after these test missions, R. Hutton, the project director of the Gaganyaan mission, said at a conference organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry, according to local media reports

The series of tests to validate the crew escape system began in July 2018, when ISRO first carried out a technology demonstration with the first pad abort test aimed at getting the crew module away from the launch vehicle in case of emergency.

The parachute system for India's Gaganyaan crew capsule gets tested on a rocket sled in August 2023.  (Image credit: ISRO)

The reconfigured 143-foot-tall (43.5 meters) Launch Vehicle Mark-3 (LVM3) rocket, which is ISRO's vehicle of choice for the crewed flight next year, has recently received human safety certification, Hutton announced at the same conference.

From February 2020 to March 2021, four Indian astronauts trained at Russia's Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow in preparation for the crewed flight. Earlier this year, ISRO announced it had resumed tests to perfect its technology and hardware for the human spaceflight program, including recovering a mock crew module from a closed pool and successfully deploying ribbon-type drogue parachutes on a rocket-powered rail track sled.

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Sharmila Kuthunur contributor

Sharmila Kuthunur is a Seattle-based science journalist covering astronomy, astrophysics and space exploration. Follow her on X @skuthunur.