Sources – Indiandefensenews

As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarks on his first state visit to the USA, reports are emerging about enhanced cooperation between India and the US in the field of space exploration. According to sources from the White House, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have allegedly agreed to collaborate on a joint mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024. However, there has been no official confirmation of such agreements thus far.

Currently, the confirmed collaboration between India and the US involves the launch of a jointly-developed advanced earth-imaging satellite called the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR). Dr. Paul Rosen, the NISAR Project Scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), revealed in an interview that the satellite is expected to be launched in early 2024. The NISAR project has been a joint effort between scientists from both countries for over a decade, and the satellite has already arrived at India’s UR Rao Satellite Centre in preparation for its upcoming launch.

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While reports of a NASA-ISRO joint mission to the ISS raise interesting possibilities, there have been no official statements from either the Indian or American governments regarding this mission or India’s signing of the Artemis Accords—an agreement aimed at promoting safe and sustainable space exploration in the 21st century. Neither ISRO nor NASA has issued any statements on the matter either. Notably, Dr. S. Somanath, the Chairman of ISRO, and Dr. Jitendra Singh, the Minister of State in India’s Department of Space, are not part of Prime Minister Modi’s delegation. However, it should be noted that the Prime Minister himself holds the senior-most decision-making authority in the space domain as he is in charge of the Department of Space.

The possibility arises of the ISRO-NASA joint mission to the ISS in 2024 serving as a precursor to India’s indigenous human spaceflight program, known as Gaganyaan. According to Dr. S. Somanath, Indian astronaut candidates, who are Indian Air Force pilots, have completed initial training abroad, simulator training in India, and are currently undergoing theoretical training. The maiden unmanned mission of Gaganyaan is scheduled for early 2024, while the crewed mission is planned for late 2024 or early 2025. Russia, the US, Japan, France, and the European Union are among the countries supporting India’s efforts in the Gaganyaan project.

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As India’s astronauts prepare for the indigenous Gaganyaan mission, a joint mission with NASA to the ISS in 2024 could serve as valuable preparation, providing them with a taste of space travel, life in low Earth orbit, and working in that environment. While the ISS was initially a cooperative program between the US, Russia, Europe, Canada, and Japan, astronauts from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have flown to the ISS as part of private missions. Indian astronauts could potentially join astronauts from other nations on a journey to the ISS, housed within the Crew Dragon Capsule atop a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket.