India is preparing its crew capsule for human spaceflight

And it used a rocket sled to test the capsule's parachutes at high speeds.
Chris Young
The parachute system for India's Gaganyaan crew capsule during testing.
The parachute system for India's Gaganyaan crew capsule during testing.


India's space program is riding high on the back of the first-ever successful soft landing on the lunar south pole.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is progressing on the testing campaign for its Gaganyaan mission, which would be the first to launch astronauts to low Earth orbit from India.

In a press statement, ISRO announced that it had performed drogue parachute deployment tests at the Rail Track Rocket Sled (RTRS) facility at the Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory in Chandigarh.

India prepares for human spaceflight

The tests took place between August 8 and August 10, according to ISRO's statement. The space agency also shared some footage from the test campaign, showing the successful deployment of one of the parachutes while traveling at high speed on a rocket-powered sled along a rail track.

The drogue parachutes are mortar-deployed conical ribbon-type parachutes, each with a diameter of roughly 19 feet (5.8 meters). Once operational, they will safely bring the Gaganyaan crew module back to the ground.

India is preparing its crew capsule for human spaceflight
An image from the drogue chute tests.

Once completed, the Gaganyaan crew module will slow down on reentry into Earth's atmosphere via a system of 10 parachutes, ISRO explains.

These include two apex cover separation parachutes and two drogue parachutes used to stabilize the module during descent. Three pilot chutes will then each deploy three main chutes ahead of landing.

According to ISRO's statement, the drogue chutes "play a pivotal role in stabilizing the crew module and reducing its velocity to a safe level during reentry."

ISRO has stated that the drogue chutes will next be tested during a high-altitude abort test called Test Vehicle Demonstration 1 (TV-D1), scheduled for late September or early October.

India's far-reaching space ambitions

Earlier this year, India's space agency also conducted recovery tests as part of a collaboration with the Indian navy. During those tests, they recovered a mock crew module from a closed pool.

ISRO will also carry out two uncrewed flight tests to validate Gaganyaan's technology in low Earth orbit. It will also test the Launch Vehicle Mark-3 rocket, which launched its successful Chandrayaan-3 Moon mission, to make sure it is prepared for human spaceflight. The first of those test flights is scheduled for late 2023, and the second for the first half of 2024.

If all goes according to plan, the first crewed Gaganyaan flight could launch as soon as late 2024. That mission will carry three Indian astronauts on a short orbital test flight.

Shortly after the Chandrayaan-3 lunar landing, India's Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, said India will now "look into a human flight mission as well for the future", adding that the country "is showing and proving that the sky is not the limit."

Chandrayaan-3 made India the fourth nation to successfully land a spacecraft on the Moon after the former Soviet Union, the US, and China. If the Gaganyaan program is a success, it will also see India join Russia, the US, and China in the small list of nations capable of sending humans to space.

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