ISRO likely to push Venus mission ‘Shukrayaan I’ to 2031

In a talk on January 9, P. Sreekumar, the Satish Dhawan Professor at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and adviser to its space science programme, said that the organisation was yet to receive approval from the Union government for the Venus mission and that the mission could as a result be postponed to 2031.

ISRO’s Venus mission, Shukrayaan I, was expected to be launched in December 2024. The idea was born in 2012. Five years later, ISRO commenced preliminary studies after the Department of Space received a 23% increase in the 2017-18 Budget.

The organisation sought payload proposals from research institutes in April 2017.

Optimal launch windows from earth to Venus occur once around every 19 months. This is why ISRO has “back-up” launch dates in 2026 and 2028, should it miss the 2024 opportunity. But even more optimal windows, which further reduce the amount of fuel required at lift-off, come around every eight years.

Mr. Sreekumar, speaking at an Indo-French astronomy meeting at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru, said that Shukrayaan I was “originally scheduled for a 2023 launch”, but that “right now the 2031 window is very good”. He added that the mission was “waiting for formal approval and money”, which are required before spacecraft assembly and testing.

He said both the U.S. and the European space agencies had Venus missions planned for 2031 — referring to VERITAS and EnVision, respectively — while “China might go anytime: 2026, 2027, whenever they want to go”.

ISRO had originally hoped to launch Shukrayaan I in mid-2023 but cited the pandemic when it pushed the date to December 2024. Other ISRO missions, including Aditya L1 and Chandrayaan III, have also been affected by manufacturing delays and commercial launch commitments.

Shukrayaan I will be an orbiter mission. Its scientific payloads currently include a high-resolution synthetic aperture radar and a ground-penetrating radar. The mission is expected to study Venus’s geological and volcanic activity, emissions on the ground, wind speed, cloud cover, and other planetary characteristics from an elliptical orbit.

ISRO received an allocation of ₹13,700 crore in the 2022-23 Budget, marginally higher than the year before.

The bulk was diverted to the human space flight mission, Gaganyaan. Ahead of the forthcoming Budget announcement, and following recent reforms in the private space flight sector, various industry groups have drafted a wishlist, including boosts to local manufacturing and procurement.