India’s plans to put two Indians in space by 2015 require cutting edge technologies such as building a robust and reliable launch vehicle, a liveable crew capsule, providing life support systems for the astronauts and “a 100 per cent reliable crew escape system” in case of an emergency, according to S. Ramkrishnan, Chief Executive, Human Space Flight Programme of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

The most challenging part, which was of paramount importance, was to ensure that the two-man crew would be brought back safely to earth. He made these observations on Monday at the Space Summit of the Indian Science Congress under way here.

The Indian astronauts would remain in space in low-earth circular orbit at an altitude of 300 km for seven days, said Mr. Ramakrishnan. The mission called for building a launch vehicle that could safely take two humans into space, navigation, guidance and control systems, plans to pre-empt disasters etc.

“But we have established our credentials for doing very complex missions,” he said.

Mr. Ramakrishnan, who is also Director (Projects), Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, said the ISRO was building a technology demonstrator of a reusable launch vehicle, called RLV-TD, similar to the U.S.’ Space Shuttle. The RLV-TD’s engineering model was ready.

A scaled-down model would be flown by the end of 2010. The Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III is right now in the testing phase. Its two boosters, each carrying 200 tonnes of solid propellants, will be tested after some weeks. It is a three-stage vehicle which, in 2011, will put a satellite weighing four tonnes in geo-synchronous transfer orbit and a ten-tonne satellite in low-earth orbit.

C.G. Krishnadas Nair, Managing Director, Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL), made a strong case for establishing universities devoted to aeronautics. The ISRO, CIAL, Airports Authority of India Limited and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited were trying to establish an international institute for aeronautical engineering and management in Bangalore. Universities should be established for teaching airport design, construction and management.

Very little research was done in aerospace in the private sector in India, Mr. Krishnadas Nair said. He wanted the Union government to devise a pro-active policy in aeronautics and set up an empowered commission on aeronautics.

Lars Prahm, Director-General, EUMETSAT, said weather-induced disasters such as floods and landslips were increasing globally. There was a reduction in the snow cover and a rise in the global sea-level. EUMETSAT is a European organisation with six operating satellites. It wanted to forge global partnership including with the ISRO in meteorology, oceanography, monitoring of climate and atmospheric composition, said Dr. Lars Prahm.

Marc Pircher, Director, CNES (the French Space Agency), said the Megha-Tropiques satellite, with payloads from India and France, would be put in orbit from India this year. It would study the tropical atmosphere near the equatorial belt and cyclone formation.

Daring to dream

Professor U.R. Rao, former Chairman, ISRO, wanted a new Green Revolution to be brought about for better productivity of food grains. This requires better management of agriculture, higher investment in energy sector, more access to marketing for farmers etc. India’s productivity of food grains of 3.5 tonnes per acre was lower than the world average. India’s challenges lay in ensuring for itself food security, energy security, environmental security, space security and so on.

Professor Rao predicted that colonisation of Mars by human beings was possible in a thousand years. “It is no more fiction. It is within the realm of possibility. The last 50 years of space has been dramatic. The next 50 years will be spectacular for those who dare to dream,” the former ISRO Chairman said.