NEW DELHI -- India on June 13 announced ambitious plans to launch its own space station, a project that could take about a decade to complete.
India's space agency chief said the space station will be an extension of the country's Gaganyaan program, which aims to send a human mission into space before August 2022, India's 75th anniversary of independence from British rule.
Ahead of an Indian crew's spaceflight, unmanned missions will take place, Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman K. Sivan said at a news conference in New Delhi.
The first unmanned mission is expected by the end of next year, followed by a second one within the next six months. "Then we will have the real human space flight by December 2021," Sivan said.
"We have to continue, we have to sustain the [human space] program," he said. "Subsequently, as a long-term plan, we are planning to have [a] space station by India, our own space station. [Then] we are going to join the international community for a manned mission to the moon," Sivan said, adding that the country has a "very, very clear" plan in that direction.
Sivan said that India wants to have its own space station and does not want to be part of existing ones. "Our space station is going to be very small," he said. "We will be launching a small module which will be useful for carrying out microgravity experiments. We don't have big plans for sending humans for tourism."
India is looking at a time frame of five to seven years for its space station project after the completion of its Gaganyaan program, Sivan said. The space station would weigh 20 tons and astronauts could live in it for 15 to 20 days, he said.
The U.S., Russia, China and a group of space agencies from the U.S., Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada that own the International Space Station currently are the only operators of space stations.
India's human space flight module under the Gaganyaan mission will be capable of carrying three people and staying in space for seven days. Sivan also said that ISRO plans to launch a solar mission to study the sun's corona, which has an impact on climate change, and then a mission to Venus in the near future.
ISRO currently is preparing for its second unmanned lunar mission, called Chandrayaan 2, that will be launched on July 15, with its landing on the moon's surface expected in early September. Chandrayaan 1, launched in October 2008, was a lunar orbiter that sent a probe into the surface near the moon's south pole.
The latest developments follow the successful testing of an antisatellite missile in March with which India became only the fourth country -- after the U.S., Russia and China -- to demonstrate that capability.
India's space plans have the full backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and come amid reports in local media that the country is planning to hold its first ever simulated space warfare exercise in late July in a bid to counter the increasing militarization of the skies beyond Earth's atmosphere.
The Times of India reported previously that the space warfare drill "does underline the seriousness with which India is taking the need to counter likely threats to its space assets from countries like China."