For several years Indian officials have talked up the development of an indigenous human spaceflight capability that could be ready by the middle of this decade, with some even suggesting a human mission to the Moon by 2020. While the latter goal has generally been treated with a heavy dose of skepticism, India’s plans for at least putting people into orbit have come in space policy discussions here in the US, as evidence that other nations were moving ahead in human spaceflight while America’s ambitions seemed stalled.
The new Indian budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, released late last week, paints a different picture. The budget for India’s Department of Space, which is primarily the Indian space agency ISRO, includes about 600 million rupees (US$12 million) for its “Manned Mission Initiatives/Human Space Flight Programme”. That’s significantly more than the 132 million rupees ($2.6 million) the program got in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, although the original request was far higher: nearly 1 billion rupees ($20 million). The program description in the budget documents offers only a few details, with no timetable for such a mission. “The programme envisages development of a fully autonomous orbital vehicle carrying two or three crew-members to about 275 km low earth orbit and their safe return,” it states. “Currently, the critical technologies required for human spaceflight pragramme [sic] are being developed as pre-project activities.”
By comparison, India is accelerating its plans for launching its first Mars orbiter. The budget includes 1.25 billion rupees ($25 million) for the Mars Orbiter Mission, compared to 100 million rupees ($2 million) in 2011-2012, the first year the project received funding. The program would permit the launch of at least a small orbiter perhaps as soon as November 2013, the next launch window in the 26-month phasing of launch opportunities. The spacecraft would go into a highly elliptical orbit with “nearly 25 kg” available for scientific instruments.
The overall ISRO budget seeks 67.2 billion rupees ($1.34 billion) for 2012-2013, up from the 44.3 billion rupees ($890 million) from its revised 2011-2012 budget, but about the same as its original request for that year.