India has started developing critical technologies for its human spaceflight mission, but the government still hasn’t given final approval for the project.

The Indian Space Research Organization announced in 2007 that the country was planning a manned spaceflight, to be launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, near Chennai in southern India.

However, the government on Aug. 9 said it “has not yet taken up the human spaceflight program, estimated, initially, in the year 2009, at 124 billion rupees [$2.25 billion].”

Currently, “the government has taken up only development of a few critical technologies required for human spaceflight,” a senior government official says.

The mission envisages sending a two-person crew in a 3-ton spacecraft to low Earth orbit for about a week. The rocket will be India’s three-stage Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle.

“Once the project gets the final approval it will take at least six to seven years for the launch,” the official says. ISRO had initially hoped that it would be able to launch the mission in 2016.

According to observers, the huge cost and the recent twin failures of the homegrown GSLV could be the reasons for the delay in getting the final nod for the project. “The successful PSLV [Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle] rocket cannot be used for such a mission as it does not have capacity, and GSLV Mk.2 has a limitation that it can take only two persons,” a scientist says. “GSLV Mk.3, which is under development, certainly can take three persons with some more space left.”

The government pruned the budget allocation for the mission in India’s current financial year, which ends March 31, 2013, to 600 million rupees from 980 million in 2011. With no clear road map and considering the cost, India is also weighing its options for collaborating on human spaceflight, the scientist says. “Continuous discussions on collaboration in manned space programs are under way globally, and we will decide on the right model at the right time,” he says.

After ISRO’s successful launch of the Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe in 2008, India is currently focusing on Mars. The federal government on Aug. 5 gave the go-ahead to launch a Mars orbiter in November 2013.

However, former ISRO chief G. Madhavan Nair says the country has concentrated more on qualifying the cryogenic engine for the GSLV and making the manned mission initiative move forward, rather than giving priority to the Mars mission.

GSLV photo: ISRO