Thursday 15 April, during the official visit to India of Jean-Yves Le Drian, the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, CNES and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced a new space cooperation agreement from the Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC) in Bangalore. Under this agreement, France will be contributing to India’s Gaganyaan human spaceflight programme.
The first space agreement between France and India dates back to 1964. Existing partnerships between the two nations cover almost all areas of space activity. ISRO will also be launching the joint Oceansat 3-Argos mission this year. With the new agreement, France will be taking part in the great technological and human challenge that is the Gaganyaan programme.
The Gaganyaan orbital spacecraft project was kicked off in August 2018. It originally intended to send aloft an astronaut from Indian soil to mark the 75th anniversary of the country’s independence in 2022. Test flights will carry an instrumented humanoid robot. The capsule will orbit at an altitude of 400 kilometres for seven days before splashing down in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Ahmedabad.
ISRO has asked CNES to help prepare for Gaganyaan missions and to serve as its single European contact in this domain. Under the terms of the agreement, CNES will train India’s flight physicians and CAPCOM mission control teams in France at the CADMOS centre for the development of microgravity applications and space operations at CNES in Toulouse and at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany. The agreement provides for CNES to support implementation of a scientific experiment plan on validation missions, exchange information on food packaging and the nutrition programme, and above all the use by Indian astronauts of French equipment, consumables and medical instruments. French equipment developed by CNES, tested and still operating aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will thus be made available to Indian crews. Thomas Pesquet, who is set to make his second flight to the ISS on 22 April for the Alpha mission, had previously tested these devices on his first spaceflight. Lastly, CNES will also be supplying fireproof carry bags made in France to shield equipment from shocks and radiation.
This cooperation could be extended in the future to parabolic flights operated by Novespace to test instruments and for astronaut training, as well as technical support for construction of an astronaut training centre in Bangalore. Ultimately, ISRO would like to leverage CNES’s experience in long-duration spaceflights with a view to developing an Indian space station.