With Gaganyaan, India readies itself for the manned mission
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 15 August 2018 announced the ambitious goal of sending Indian astronauts into space by 2021-2022 to mark the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence. The Indian Space Research Agency (ISRO) has got down to the job and started the process of putting the necessary technologies and infrastructure in place for India’s most ambitious space mission so far.
The Cabinet in December 2018 approved the Gaganyaan mission, which plans to take a three-member crew into an orbit around the earth for seven days. Costing a whopping Rs 10,000 crores, the mission will be assisted by foreign space companies in astronaut training and other critical technologies. This will be India’s first manned mission to space. The mission envisages putting Indian astronauts into space by the end of 2021. The GSLV MK-III, which is India’s most powerful rocket so far, will be tasked with carrying the astronauts. The engine of the rocket has already been tested.
ISRO set up the Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC), to be headed by senior scientist UnniKrishnan Nair, which will oversee the Gaganyaan mission. The new centre will oversee the training of the astronauts, their selection and will develop the necessary technologies for this first-of-its-kind mission for India. The ISRO signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Indian Air Force (IAF) for crew selection and training for the project. The space agency indicated it will be picking up experienced pilots from the IAF and training them as astronauts. The ministry of defence (MoD), through its various organisations such as the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) will have a significant role in contributing to the different aspects of the programme.
The Institute of Aerospace Medicine has been working in this field for more than 40 years and will now have a significant role in training astronauts and conducting safety checks. The institute has built the capacity over the decades and worked on many crucial space missions in the past.
The training of the astronauts will be a major challenge. Glavkosmos, the Russian launch service provider, is one of the global firms roped in by the ISRO for selection support, medical examination and space training of Indian astronauts. The Russian firm, which is a rich experience in the field, will assist the HSFC in selecting the crew for the mission, carry out their medical examination and train them for manned mission slated to be launched by 2022. FORCE tried to reach the Russian firm for a comment, but couldn’t get a response as they cited confidentiality agreement with ISRO.
According to its website, Glavkosmos has been in the field for about 30 years, worked on more than 120 international space-related contracts and boasts of renowned international clients from around the globe. The press release by Glavkosmos on ISRO partnership said it will take the support of the Federal State Budget Organisation – U.A. Gagarin Research & Test Cosmonaut Training Center and the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The former BrahMos chief and distinguished professor at ISRO, Dr Sivathanu Pillai, said there is high optimism that the project will achieve its deadline, and seeing the record of the premier space agency, it’s not impossible. He said ISRO is currently in the process of shortlisting the crew from the IAF and the programme is proceeding at a fast pace.
“ISRO will make use of national talent pool in a better way. Many institutes will work together to achieve this mission, it’s a national programme. The Institute of Aerospace Medicine will train the pilots on survival in space, including what food they will eat, the health requirements, etc. They have a wide experience in the area,” he added.
Supporting life support system in space is a complex affair, and the Institute of Aerospace Medicine with its vast experience in the field, is the most appropriate institute in the country to carry out this mission. Besides, this is the only institute in India and South East Asia which conducts research in aerospace medicine.
Pillai said ISRO will bring the experience of Russia and the US in successfully carrying forward this manned mission. He said ISRO has reached the global level in space exploration, and can be an equal partner in important space missions.
ISRO chief K. Sivan early this year declared HSFC as top priority for the organisation, and said the management structure has been put in place to realise the objective. HSFC shall be responsible for implementation of Gaganyaan project which involves end-to-end mission planning, development of engineering systems for crew survival in space, crew selection and training and also pursue activities for sustained human space flight missions. HSFC will take support of the existing ISRO centres to implement the first development flight of Gaganyaan under Human Space Flight Programme. S. Unnikrishnan Nair is the founder director of HSFC and R. Hutton is the project director of Gaganyaan project.
ISRO believes the mission will be a major turning point for the organisation, which will be expanding its activities beyond engineering domains of launchers and satellites, and into the realm of developing and handling technologies to sustain humans in space.
The Gaganyaan module will be carried by India’s heaviest launch vehicle – GSLV Mark III – which became operational in November after its second successive flight in a row. It will have two non-crew flights in December 2020 and July 2021 for it to qualify for carrying astronauts into space.
GSLV-Mk III has twice the capability of its predecessor, GSLV-Mk II, and is designed to carry four-tonne satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbit or 10-tonne satellites into low earth orbit. At 43 metres height, GSLV-Mk III is a three-stage launch vehicle with two solid strap-ons, with a liquid core stage and a cryogenic upper stage. ISRO has to spend over Rs 300 crores on each launch of GSLV-Mk III.
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