By Nivedita Bhattacharjee
BENGALURU (Reuters) - India is set to conduct a key test in its ambitious crewed space mission Gaganyaan as early as next month, the project director of the mission R. Hutton told Reuters.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is currently training four astronauts and looking to expand the cohort as it aims for more future manned missions, Hutton said.
The Gaganyaan mission is aimed at developing a human-habitable space capsule that will carry a three-member crew into an orbit of 400 km (250 miles) for three days, before returning to safety in a planned splashdown in the Indian Ocean.
ISRO has said it will explore ways to achieve a sustained human presence in space once Gaganyaan is completed.
The team is aiming to test its crew escape system, which can be used to eject astronauts in emergencies, before undertaking a battery of other tests before the final launch phase, Hutton said, adding: "Safety is the most important thing we need to ensure".
About 90.23 billion Indian rupees ($1.1 billion) has been allocated for the mission, which comes after the space agency's historical landing of its Chandrayaan-3 craft on the lunar south pole.
While an exact timeline has not been shared, the mission is expected to be launched from the country's main spaceport in Sriharikota before 2024.
The space agency has previously said its Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre had successfully tested systems for stabilising the crew module and safely reducing its velocity during re-entry.
($1 = 83.0400 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee; Writing by Blassy Boben; Editing by David Holmes)