The year 2022 will be a busy one for the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), as it gears up for new missions and also clear the backlog forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
At the beginning of 2021, Chairman K Sivan said Isro would launch 14 missions during the year, including the space agency's first unmanned mission. However, only two launches —PSLV-DL in February and EOS 03 satellite in August, which was unsuccessful—materialised.
During the recent winter session of Parliament, Minister of State for Atomic Energy and Space Jitendra Singh said that India’s maiden human space mission Gaganyaan will now be launched in 2023. The earlier plan was for 2022.
Singh said COVID restrictions delayed the plan but preparations were on to achieve the target by 2023.
The minister later said the test vehicle flight for the validation of crew escape system performance and the first uncrewed mission of Gaganyaan (G1) was scheduled for 2022, which would be followed by a second uncrewed flight at the end of the year.
Indian Defence News report, citing ISRO sources, said 11 launch windows have been booked but more were possible during the year.
Here are some of the missions planned by Isro in 2022:
1 Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV): On December 16, Jitendra Singh told the Rajya Sabha that the development of SSLV was in the final stages. Its first developmental flight was being planned for the first quarter of 2022.
SSLV will provide a payload capability of 500 kg to a 500 km planar orbit. SSLV was being primarily developed to realise a cost-effective launch vehicle with a high launch frequency and quick turnaround capability to cater to a growing global market.
2 RISAT-1A: Radar Imaging Satellite-1A, or RISAT-1A, is a remote sensing satellite. Developed by Isro, it will be sixth in the series of RISAT satellites, with a configuration similar to that of RISAT-1. It will be a land-based mission with primary application in terrain mapping and analysis of land, ocean and water surface for soil moisture.
3 Aditya L1: The year 2022 will also see some progress in the Aditya-L1 mission to study the sun. The launch is expected by the middle of 2022. It is India’s first observatory class mission to study the solar corona using a solar coronagraph and also chromosphere using near UV instrument. X-ray spectroscopic instrument will provide flare spectra while in-situ payload observe the solar events during their passage from the sun to Earth.
4 Chandrayaan-3: Chandrayaan-3 will be India's third mission to Moon. The earlier mission Chandrayaan-2 failed following a last-minute glitch in the soft landing guidance software.
It has the same configuration as its predecessor but it will not have an orbiter and only include a lander and rover. The orbiter launched during Chandrayaan-2 will be used for Chandrayaan-3. The spacecraft is planned to be launched in the third quarter of 2022.
5 Gaganyaan 1: The test vehicle flight for the validation of crew escape system performance and the first uncrewed mission of Gaganyaan (G1) are scheduled at the beginning of the second half of 2022.
6 Gaganyaan 2: After Gaganyaan 1, the second uncrewed mission is expected to be launched at the end of 2022 carrying Vyommitra, a spacefaring human-robot developed by Isro. After that, the first crewed Gaganyaan mission is expected to be launched in 2023, which will make India the fourth nation in the world to launch a human spaceflight mission after the US, Russia and China.
The Gaganyaan programme will be different from other human missions as it will be more cost-effective and inclusive, Singh had told the Rajya Sabha.
Several research modules will accompany the Gaganyaan and it will involve start-ups and more than 500 industries. For the first time since the country’s Independence, private industry will be involved in space technology. The objective of the Gaganyaan programme is to demonstrate the capability to send humans to low earth orbit (LEO) onboard on Indian Launch Vehicle and bring them back to Earth safely.
Isro is also expected to launch other satellites in 2022.
Public sector NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL) has decided to launch the communication satellite GSAT-24 through the Ariane-5 rocket belonging to Arianespace.
NSIL, incorporated in March 2019, is a Central Public Sector Enterprise (CPSE) under the Department of Space and is the commercial arm of Isro. The entire satellite capacity on-board GSAT-24 will be leased to its committed customer Tata Sky for meeting its DTH application needs. The launch is expected in the first quarter of 2022.
Sharing the space with private players
Small rocket makers Skyroot Aerospace Private Ltd and Agnikul Cosmos are expected to fly their vehicles by the end of 2022. Satellite-maker Syzygy Space Technologies Pvt Ltd, commonly known as Pixxel, is also expected to fly its satellite sometime next year.
"The year 2022 is an important year as we bring everything together for a launch of Vikram-1 rocket and join the elite of the world in providing launch solutions," Pawan Kumar Chandana, CEO and Chief Technology Officer, Skyroot Aerospace, told IANS news agency.
As a part of opening up the space sector, the Indian government constituted the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) as the sectoral regulator for the private players.
Chandana said 2021 was a time when startups proved their capability with successful technology demonstrations and forward-looking policies drafted by the Department of Space.
"2021 is the year where a framework has been established for sharing the facilities and expertise of Isro with startups. This started with the landmark MoU signed between Isro and Skyroot Aerospace in September. This framework is going to benefit several startups to gain competitive advantage in the commercial space world," Chandana said.With Omicron strain pushing up Covid cases again, delays can’t be ruled out in 2022 as well but the new year is a time for new beginnings, new hope, and possibly new launches—plenty of them.