ISRO Signs MOU with Private Company for Reusable Space Capsule as Gaganyaan Program Progresses

Indian Coast Guard recovering ISRO’s Crew module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) at 114 nautical miles South West of Indira point. [Credit: Indian Coast Guard (GODL-India)]

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a private company named Vyom Space Exploration and Services Private Ld. that says it is developing a reusable capsule that will transport cargo and eventually astronauts to and from space.

Company founder and CEO Manish Kukreti told Indian media that the first capsule will be delivered to ISRO for evaluation within 16 months. He said Vyom Space has been developing the capsule with partners in Europe and funding from international investors.

Kukreti said the capsule will be an evolution of the single-use Gaganyaan spacecraft that ISRO is developing to fly three astronauts into Earth orbit.

“When it comes to Gaganyaan, the modules are all single-use, which means they don’t have a lot of commercial viability. This is what we hope to provide to Isro missions,” Kukreti is quoted as saying.

There is very little information about the Gurugram-based company, which does not have a website. Media reports say the company is being incubated by the Indian military’s Joint Services Innovation and Indigenisation Centre (JSIIC).

According to Kukreti’s LinkedIn profile, the company was created in November 2019. Kukreti is a former major in the Indian Army who also services as managing director of Dron Vayu Private Ltd., a four-year old company that “focuses on space and aerospace domains.”

The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) facilitated the MOU between ISRO and Vyom Space. IN-SPACe is part of the India’s effort to commercialize its government-run space program.

Gaganyaan Program Progressing

Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally announced the Gaganyaan human spaceflight program during a speech on Indian Independence Day in August 2018. He set a goal of a crewed flight taking place by the 75th anniversary of Indian independence in 2022.

However, the global COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted the entire Indian space program, significantly reducing the nation’s launch cadence and forcing a multi-year delay in its ambitious human spaceflight program.

ISRO now expects to begin a series of flight tests on Gaganyaan in February, culminating in an uncrewed orbital flight test in December 2023. After testing is completed, three astronauts will make a orbital flight test of Gaganyaan that is expected to last five to seven days. That flight is expected to take place in late 2024 or early 2025.

ISRO conducted a successful test of Gaganyaan’s parachute system at the Babina Field Fire Range last month.

“The Integrated Main Parachute Airdrop Test simulated the case when one main parachute failed to open and it is the first in a series of tests planned to simulate different failure conditions of the parachute system before it is deemed qualified to be used in the first human spaceflight mission,” ISRO said in a press release.

“In this test, a 5-ton dummy mass, equivalent to the Crew module mass, was taken to an altitude of 2.5 kilometers and dropped using the Indian Air force’s IL-76 aircraft. Two small pyro-based mortar-deployed pilot parachutes, then pulled the Main parachutes. The fully inflated Main parachutes reduced the payload speed to a safe landing speed as the entire sequence lasted about 2-3 minutes and the payload mass landed softly on the ground,” the space agency added.

India would become the fourth nation to possess the capability to launch astronauts into space. Only the United States, Russia and China have crewed systems.