India-Russia space collaboration takes flight again

M Somasekhar Hyderabad | Updated on September 05, 2019 Published on September 05, 2019

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Three-and-a-half decades after Rakesh Sharma, India’s first Cosmonaut, flew into space in the Soyuz 11 spacecraft, Russia is again set to play a major role in training people in ‘Project Gaganyaan’, India’s manned space mission.

The Rs 10,000 crore ambitious mission intends to send at least 3 Indian astronauts to space by 2022. Two unmanned flights and one manned flight will be undertaken as part of Gaganyaan Programme, according to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now in Vladivostok, Russia, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, had announced on Wednesday that Russia will train Indian astronauts for Gaganyaan flight.

The ISRO has already indicated that it will select candidates from test pilots in the armed forces towards the end of 2019 for astronaut training.

A Cosmonaut is one trained and certified by the Russian Space Agency, while an Astronaut is one trained and certified by NASA, ESA. Both are trained professionals, fit to travel in outer space.

Increasing cooperation

India-Russia space ties will get a major boost with this development.

The Chandrayaan-2, which is expected to land on the South Pole of the Moon on September 7, using Russian isotope products in the mission.

In 2018, during Putin’s visit to India, an MoU was signed to enhance cooperation. Consequently, there has been a spurt in tied between the Russian State Space Corporation ‘Roscosmos’ and the ISRO in the human spaceflight programmes and satellite navigation.

Long standing ties

Interestingly, India’s engagement with Russia in space relationships goes back to 1975, when the erstwhile Soviet Union helped in the launch of Aryabhata (India’s first satellite), from the Soyuz Launch Vehicle.

Even the second satellite Bhaskara was launched from Soviet Union in 1979.

Just under a decade later in 1984, the Soviets gave a big morale booster to India by accommodating Sq. Ldr Rakesh Sharma to fly on the Soyuz T-11 spaceship, launched from Baikanur cosmodrome in Soviet Union, as part of the Interkosmos programme.

Even then, the Russians had trained Rakesh Sharma and Ravish Malhotra, top notch pilots from the Indian Air Force for the flight in space technology and cosmonaut training. Ultimately, Rakesh Sharma was selected.

After 38 years, India aims to send trained astronauts to space, and intends to intensity its ambitious ‘Humans in Space’ mission over a long period in future. Meanwhile, quite a few Indian origin astronauts have made a mark in Space like Kalpana Chawla, Sunita Williams and Shawna Pandya.

Two other areas where Russia is a critical partner are in the fields of satellite navigation through the Russian Satellite Navigation System ‘GLONASS’ for help in India’s own system called NavIC.

The second is in the development of GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle) Launch Vehicle, which powers the Chandrayaan-2 and many upcoming missions of ISRO by providing the Cryogenic rocket technology .

Published on September 05, 2019
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