The Indian Space Research Organisation on Friday confirmed that preparations for the ambitious indigenous Gaganyaan programme, the country’s first manned mission to space, had started, ANI reported.

Speaking to reporters in Bengaluru, agency chief K Sivan said that the target for the two unmanned missions is December 2020 and July 2021. The target to send a manned mission to space is December 2021, ahead of the 2022 deadline announced initially.

“The mission has been a major turning point for ISRO,” Sivan said, adding that women astronauts will be part of the team. “The initial training for Gaganyaan will be done in India and advanced training maybe in Russia.”

The Union Cabinet on December 28 had approved the mission, which is set to cost Rs 10,000 crore. This will include the cost of technology development, flight hardware and essential infrastructure elements. The programme will carry a three-member crew into space for a minimum of seven days.

The three-stage heavy lift launch vehicle, GSLV Mk III, will be used to launch Gaganyaan, and national agencies will collaborate with the Indian Space Research Organisation to bring the mission to fruition.

If Gaganyaan is successful, India will become the fourth nation to launch a manned mission in space, after Russia, the United States and China.