India will be in a position to carry out a manned space mission within seven years from now, said a top official of the Indian space agency in Sriharikota on Monday.
Addressing the media after the successful launch of 10 satellites in one go, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman G Madhavan Nair said: "The government has given us pre-project funding of Rs 950 million (for the manned mission) and we have initiated necessary activities."
Asked about the need for a manned mission when tests could be conducted remotely, he said: "Today the US, Russia and China have a capability to have a manned mission. We cannot be left behind in the space race. Further, man's presence is absolutely necessary in a spacecraft for conducting some experiments."
The manned mission will be in ISRO's second and more powerful rocket geo synchronous launch vehicle (GSLV).
"We have to study issues like crew module, emergency escape system, provision of all-round outside view from the spacecraft for the crew. These are complex systems that ISRO has to tackle," said K Radhakrishnan, director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, on the complexities involved.
ISRO will first put out three unmanned rockets to test the systems before sending a rocket with a man.
That aside, ISRO will be launching five-six rockets per year - all with multiple missions, Nair said.
"In terms of missions - satellite launches per rocket - during the next five years we will be doing around 70," he remarked.
Speaking about the forthcoming commercial launches, K.R. Sridharamurthi, executive director of Antrix Corporation, ISRO's commercial arm, said: "We are in the process of negotiating for two commercial launches".
Referring to Monday's PSLV C9 launch, Nair said the weather gods gave ISRO officials some anxious moments as there was low pressure over the Bay of Bengal.
"We found that out with the image sent by our meteorological satellite Kalpana. At 11 pm last night we decided to proceed with the launch as the low pressure moved away."
The rocket lifted off the second launch pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre here, about 80 km from Chennai, at 9.24 am emitting thick orange flames, and placed in orbit an Indian cartography and a mini satellite to maintain leadership in the remote sensing domain.
It also slung eight nano satellites into outer space, marking the world's second largest such mission. Russia holds the record for launching 16 satellites at one go last year.
Fourteen minutes into the flight, the 44-metre tall rocket first slung the 690 kg Cartosat-2A and followed it by slipping the 83 kg mini satellite and the cluster of other nano satellites into a high polar sun synchronous orbit (SSO).
However, there were a few anxious moments for the ISRO scientists as the separation signal from seven satellites didn't come in initially.
Fortunately, it all ended well when the tracking station at Mauritius got the satellite signals.
"Our customers too have received the signals from their satellites at their respective tracking stations," Nair said.
Antrix Corporation earned $600,000 as carriage fee to ferry the eight nano satellites.
The two Indian satellites, Cartosat-2A and the mini satellite, will start sending pictures Tuesday.
The Rs.1.2 billion Cartosat-2A has a life of five years and the Rs 220 million mini satellite two years.
"Both satellites have sufficient on-board fuel to last longer," said DVA Raghava Murthy, project director, Small Satellite Projects.
Asked about the optimal luggage capacity of PSLV without its customary six strap-on motors, George Koshy, vehicle director, said: "The core alone version can carry up to 1,100 kg. The capacity may vary slightly depending on the orbit intended."