The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning to launch the first uncrewed mission (testing flight) in December, as part of the human spaceflight programme ‘Gaganyaan’. It is facing challenges due to the adverse impact of the COVID-19-induced lockdowns that has disrupted hardware delivery schedules.
- Gaganyaan is an Indian crewed orbital spacecraft intended to be the formative spacecraft of the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme.
- Formal announcement of the Gaganyaan programme was made by Prime Minister during his Independence Day address on August 15, 2018.
- The initial target was to launch the human spaceflight before the 75th anniversary of India’s independence on August 15, 2022.
- The spacecraft is being designed to carry three people, and a planned upgraded version will be equipped with rendezvous and docking capability.
- In its maiden crewed mission, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s largely autonomous 5.3 t (12,000 lb) capsule will orbit the Earth at 400 km (250 mi) altitude for up to seven days with a two or three-person crew on board.
- The crewed vehicle was originally planned to be launched on ISRO’s GSLV Mk III in December 2021, but this has since been delayed to no earlier than 2023.
- This Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) manufactured crew module had its first un-crewed experimental flight on 18 December 2014.
- Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) will provide support for critical human-centric systems and technologies like space grade food, crew healthcare, radiation measurement and protection, parachutes for the safe recovery of the crew module and fire suppression system.
- On 11 June 2020, it was announced that while the first uncrewed Gaganyaan launch has been delayed due to COVID-19 pandemic in India, overall timeline for crewed launches is expected to remain unaffected
Training for the astronauts
- ISRO has signed a contract with a subsidiary of ROSCOSMOS (the Russian space agency), called Gavkosmos for preparing the Indian astronauts selected for the mission.
- The four selected astronauts are undergoing medical and physical training, apart from learning the Russian language, which is considered one of the important languages of space communication.
- The astronaut candidates will also be trained in simulations in a centrifuge and in a hyperbaric chamber (pressurized room) to prepare them for conditions like G-force, hypoxia and pressure drops during spaceflight.
- The training would be tough since they have to get acclimatised to gravitational changes that will cause physiological changes.
- Changing gravity can cause fluctuations in the blood pressure particularly during re-entry to earth or landing, and can even cause unconsciousness sometimes. Astronauts may also face motion sickness while experiencing weightlessness in space.
- The training in Russia will be for a year after which the astronauts will receive module-specific training in India.
- All the candidate astronauts are pilots from the Indian Air Force. They were shortlisted from about 25 pilots by the Air Force.
The objective of the Gaganyaan programme is to demonstrate the capability to send humans to low earth orbit on board an Indian launch vehicle and bring them back to earth safely.
On 22 January 2020, ISRO announced Vyommitra, a female-looking robot who will accompany the other astronauts in the mission. It can detect and give out warnings if environmental changes within the cabin get uncomfortable to astronauts and change the air condition, it can also take up postures suited for launch and tasks and take commands
Significance of Gaganyaan for India:
- Boost to industries: The Indian industry will find large opportunities through participation in the Space missions. Gaganyaan mission is expected to source nearly 60% of its equipment from the Indian private sector.
- Employment: The space organisation would need an additional manpower of 900. Gaganyaan mission would create 15,000 new employment opportunities. It is expected to generate employment and train human resources in advanced technologies. The programme is expected to give impetus to economic activities within the country in terms of human resource development and enhanced industrial capabilities.
- Technological development: Human Space flights are frontier field in science and technology. Human spaceflight programme will provide a unique platform in space for conducting experiments and test bed for future technologies.
- Boost to academic organisations: Gaganyaan Programme is a national effort and will involve the participation of academia and National Agencies. It will establish a broader framework for collaboration between ISRO, academia, industry, national agencies and other scientific organizations.
- Boost to research: It will boost good research and technology development. With a large number of researchers with proper equipment involved, it will thrust significant research in areas such as materials processing, astro-biology, resource mining, planetary chemistry, planetary orbital calculus and many other areas.
- Motivation: Human space flight will provide that inspiration to the youth and also the national public. It will inspire a large number of young students to take up science and technology careers for national development.
- Prestige: India will be the 4th country to launch human space mission. The Gaganyaan will not only bring about prestige to the nation but also establish India’s role as a key player in the space industry.
Challenges of the mission:
- Launch: The GSLV Mk III has been modified to enable human space flights, to be human rated and fail-safe. For a human space flight, the launcher must have a reliability of 98% or above, or only two failures in a 100 launches, which is a big challenge.
- Escape System: It is important to develop a crew escape system to prepare for any emergency from the launch phase onwards and ensure the reliability of such a system. Environmental Control & Life Support System (ELCSS), space suit and crew support systems are still in the developmental phase.
- Astronaut Training: India does not have facilities for rigorous and focused training, such as centrifuges to experience g-forces and aircraft to simulate zero gravity conditions.
- Threat from Space Debris: There is increasing threat of Space debris in the low earth orbits which can result in depressurisation of the cabin of the crew module in case of a collision with small debris.
- Cost: Human space flight missions are not one-time investments required for demonstrating national capability but has to be continued human space flight pursuit with national gain. Therefore, the financial implications are of a concern.
Source: The Hindu