Thursday, August 11, 2022

India Awaits GaganYaan Launch As ISRO Gears Up To Meet Deadline

By Vijay Grover

December 2021 saw a lot of excitement at the Indian Space Research Organisation, the buzz around the Gaganyaan Mission graduated to visible excitement. With the Specific Crew Training commencement, the teams at ISRO are now looking at India’s first Manned Mission with a renewed vigour and enthusiasm. 

With the excitement of the Gaganyaan catching up across the country, team IADB takes a look at the rapid progress India’s first man mission is making. The project teams suffered a setback with some of the team members testing positive for COVID and  the massive travel restrictions which meant some deadlines missed, in spite of that the various teams have been making up for the lost time.  

December saw a series of crucial updates which now offers India the same status as the others of this Elite Space Club, namely America, Russia and China. The Gaganyaan Programme envisages undertaking the demonstration of human spaceflight to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in the short-term and will lay the foundation for a sustained Indian human space exploration programme in the long run. The objective of Gaganyaan programme is to demonstrate indigenous capability to undertake human space flight missions to LEO.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking a keen interest in the success of the project and these initiatives ensure sustained financial and technical support. The crucial constitution of an Inter-Agency Task Team a couple of days ago with members from DRDO, IAF and ISRO outlined the requirements for Crew Training Curriculum. The astronauts who had completed a year of training at Gagarin Space Centre in Russia early this year, will undergo further training under the supervision of the Task Team. While the identity of the four Indians is still being protected by the Government of India, the “Gaganauts” as they have been christened will now undergo training in Orbital Module systems, Space Medicine, Launch Complex Procedures which are key elements of the success of the project. 

The curriculum which has been approved by an Apex Committee composed of senior officials from ISRO and IAF, including the first Indian who went to space in 1984, Wing Cdr (Retd.) Rakesh Sharma and his reserve astronaut Air Cmde (Retd.) Ravish Malhotra approved a three-semester training curriculum. The Gaganauts will have courses on understanding the ambitious Human Rated Launch Vehicle (HRLV) which will carry the astronauts for the mission into space.

The four officers of the Indian Air Force which include a Group Captain and the Wing Commanders are undergoing training in Microgravity Familiarisation at the Institute of Aviation Medicine in Bengaluru and in Russia. The four pilots who completed a couple of weeks of flying sorties in Bidar in North Karnataka a few weeks back will be travelling again to Russia for advanced training and getting their space suits which are being designed there. The team will also undergo training for Virtual reality simulators, Static Mock-up simulators and health monitoring equipment. The “Gaganauts” who are expected to stay 5 to 7 days in the space module are being familiarised with Recovery Operations, Survival Training and related subjects.

The Crew Safety in Gaganyaan mission is an important objective of the training programme as it is an uncharted course for ISRO. The crew will be thoroughly trained about the operating environment, risks, warning systems, procedures for nominal and off-nominal situations and emergency escape systems.

India is working with more than six countries to achieve the Gaganyaan Human Spaceflight mission, which is a symbol of International Cooperation. Earlier this month, Dr. K. Sivan, Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said “Indian astronauts have completed their training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Russia, we are working with French space agency CNES in the field of Space medicine, with Canada and Romania for wind-tunnel testing, and Australia (ASA) and European Space Agency for ground station support”.

Appreciating the risks to human lives, and keeping their safety in mind ISRO will conduct two unmanned missions in 2022 of the same scale before launching the manned space mission in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The workhorse of the ISRO, GSLV Mk III will be the rocket which will carry out the unscrewed missions and the Gaganyaan mission. Scientists at SHAR confirm that slight modification in design has been made to the GSLV Mk III to classify it as Human rated GSLV Mk III. With the successful testing of the high thrust Vikas Engine, work is progressing on the first uncrewed mission could be in mid 2022. Gujarat may benefit from the major infrastructure projects linked with India’s spaceflight programme and its first mission “Gaganyaan”. If the meetings amongst scientists at ISRO with other scientific agencies over several months is any indication, Gujarat may get a mirror control centre of the ISTRAC facility in Bengaluru

IADB learnt that the Indian Navy citing the Bay of Bengal being a rough sea suggested Arabian Sea as a better option to land the capsule. The Navy’s apprehension being the apparatus with the crew, being heavy can go below the water and make it more difficult for rescue teams to operate. The choice of Gujarat to set up a rehabilitation centre which is attached with the choice of place of landing triggered a political storm. A source at ISRO told IADB, “The returning astronauts need a rehabilitation facility equipped with medical and other amenities. If the choice for landing is Arabian Sea, the rehabilitation centre will have to be set up in Gujarat”. 

While several questions have been raised about the INR 10,000 crore Gaganyaan Programme, the team at ISRO highlights that the Gaganyaan Programme envisages undertaking the demonstration of human spaceflight to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in the short-term which will lay the foundation for a sustained Indian human space exploration programme in the long run. With India’s space ministry planning to set up a Space Station by 2030, the project will be a key stepping stone in demonstrating India’s technology. 

As far as benefits of undertaking Gaganyaan programme, scientists in ISRO say, “The Human spaceflight programme has both tangible and intangible benefits for the nation, which includes progress towards a sustained and affordable human and robotic programme to explore the solar system and beyond”.

It also creates a unique opportunity to inspire and excite Indian youth and steer many students toward careers in science and technology towards challenging jobs that encourage knowledge, innovation and creativity. A recent Gaganyaan awareness drive this month saw as many as 496 rocket kits — which are prototypes of Gaganyaan, assembled and launched by students from Goa schools who created a Guinness World Record for ‘Most People Sending Rocket Kits Simultaneously in Single Venue’.

Inspite of having missed the launch date to coincide with the 75th year of independence, Gaganyaan has increased the curiosity and involvement of young minds towards this endeavour which not just adds to the success of this indigenous manned mission with Indian astronauts on an Indian designed Rocket but takes India closer to achieving bigger and higher goals. 

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