India will launch its much-awaited human spaceflight mission in 2023, Union Science and Technology Minister Jitendra Singh said. Named Gaganyaan, the first human space mission to launch from Indian soil was initially set for August 2022, to mark 75 years of India’s independence but the coronavirus-induced pandemic forced a delay in its timeline. Singh acknowledged the delay but added that preparations are going full throttle to achieve the 2023 target. He added that a successful Gaganyaan mission will make India the fourth country in the world to launch a manned space flight.

The Union minister told Rajya Sabha Thursday that all the major test missions, including the validation of the crew escape system, will be completed by 2022. The first uncrewed mission will launch at the beginning of the second half of next year and a second uncrewed mission is scheduled for the end 2022. The second mission will carry Vyommitra, a humanoid robot developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Gaganyaan mission during his Independence Day address in 2018.

Singh added that Gaganyaan’s objective is to demonstrate India’s capability to send humans to low earth orbit and bring them back to Earth safely, according to an official statement. The minister said more than 500 industries are involved in the launch of the mission and this has been made possible by opening the space sector to private participation.

Four pilots selected for the mission are undergoing astronaut training in Russia. A training facility for astronauts is being set up in Bengaluru. India has signed contracts with the Russian and French space agencies for supplies of some equipment. Russia has started supplying space suits, crew seats, and viewports. The supplies from CNES, the French space agency too have started, according to the government.

A successful Gaganyaan mission will catapult India into the elite club with the US, Russia, and China.

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