The Indian government has announced it is allocating 100 billion rupees ($1.43bn) for its first manned space mission, set to be launched by 2022.
“Today, the Cabinet has given the go-ahead to the Indian Human Space Flight Initiative,” Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters in New Delhi on Friday.
“We will send a three-member crew for seven days into space. We are aiming to complete the pilot initiative within 40 months from now,” he added.
India is aiming to expand the country’s influence in the competitive $300bn global space industry.
An unmanned test launch of the project is likely scheduled for December 2020.
The Gaganyaan project – Hindi for “spacecraft” – is part of the government’s ambition to make India a global low-cost provider of services in space.
In 2014, India put a satellite into orbit around Mars, becoming the fourth nation to do so. India’s Mars Mission cost less than the budget of the Hollywood space blockbuster “Gravity”. In November this year, India fired a rocket carrying 31 satellites into space, many on behalf of foreign governments.
The Indian manned mission, announced in August this year by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will aim to send a three-member crew to space for seven days. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has said it hopes to deploy its biggest rocket, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark III to transport the three Indians into space.
For the manned mission, ISRO has already inked collaboration agreements with Russia’s Roscosmos and France’s CNES space agencies.
“A manned space mission is a natural progression in a country’s space journey. Commercial market space conservation is an important factor for India to develop its space capabilities. But over the last decade or so, India has attempted to make changes to its space policy,” Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, the head of the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation, told Al Jazeera.
“India has its own interests in space, beyond economics and development. Increasingly, there are military and security-related aspects driving India’s space programme. For instance, China’s anti-satellite test in 2007 had given rise to new debate within India as to how it should develop its own deterrence measures,” she added.
India’s neighbour China first sent humans to space in 2003.
New Delhi’s space programme was launched in the early 1960s but it remains a small player in the global space industry.
Both China and India have dedicated billions of dollars to their space programmes, but their budgets are still far below that of the United States, which is estimated at $40bn.
With their ambitious space exploration and Mars missions, China and India have become members of a select club of space-faring nations along with the US, Russia, France and Japan.
Despite its success, many have questioned the project’s steep price tag, which they say is too high for a country that still has to deal with widespread hunger and poverty.