KEY POINTS

  • SpaceX is expected to test its first crewed spaceflight in Spring 2020
  • ISRO is expected to test the Gaganyaan by December 2021
  • Both space agencies are known for their cost-effective space exploration technology

SpaceX and ISRO are changing the paradigm when it comes to space exploration. While ISRO is known for launching rockets at a fraction of the cost of NASA, SpaceX has its reusable rocket technology, which can significantly decrease the price of spaceflight.

Both space agencies also have another similarity: they are preparing for sending manned missions to space.

SpaceX conducted a test, on Monday, in which it was able to detach its crew capsule from the Falcon 9 rocket before it was intentionally destroyed. It was a way to test that the abort system on the Falcon 9 worked and showcased that the spacecraft would successfully disengage itself in case of an emergency.

The company’s CEO, Elon Musk, confirmed that it will start conducting tests for crewed spaceflights this year and has already selected NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken for the mission.

“We're highly confident that the hardware will be ready in the first quarter, most likely end of February but no later than March and we think it appears probable that the first crewed launch would occur in the second quarter,” Musk told Space.com Sunday.

Indian Space agency ISRO has taken another route when it comes to manned spaceflight. The company is developing an orbital spacecraft called “Gaganyaan.”

Gaganyaan is a crewed orbital spacecraft designed to carry three people, which will orbit the earth at 400 km altitude. The uncrewed launch is planned for December 2020, while the crewed launch is slated for December 2021.

While SpaceX is building reusable rockets, ISRO is using a more traditional technique of the spacecraft detaching from the rocket and then returning to earth after completing its mission.

Both space capsules are expected to have life support and environmental control systems.

SpaceX’s space launch paradigm is interesting but its safety record is not as stellar as ISRO for unmanned missions, which is why the success of the abort process makes it more feasible for the company to move in the direction of crewed spaceflight.

Both the Gaganyaan and the Dragon have, now, completed initial tests and maybe ready for the next phase, which is crewed flight. 

Successful crewed spaceflights are important for both ISRO and SpaceX. If SpaceX’s mission succeeds, its commercial contract with NASA to carry astronauts to space will become an agreement and it would also boost avenues such as space tourism for the country.

ISRO has been progressing by leaps and bounds with the success of missions such as the Mars Orbiter Mission. Crewed spaceflights will definitely increase not just commercial avenues for the Government space agency, but also further its own research operations.

This NASA TV video frame grab shows a SpaceX rocket launching to perform an in-flight abort test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, which was unmanned for the apparently successful test This NASA TV video frame grab shows a SpaceX rocket launching to perform an in-flight abort test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, which was unmanned for the apparently successful test Photo: NASA TV / Handout