Gaganyaan Unplugged is an Onmanorama series that will get you all exciting happenings from India's manned mission.
Bengaluru: The Human Spaceflight Programme (HSP) – Gaganyaan – will be a big ticket mission for Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which got on to an action mode soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced it in August 2018.
Since then, ISRO made gradual progress in the mission. A dedicated team was first formed in Bengaluru. Then, the Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC) was set up inside the Antariksh Bhavan campus in record time.
Gaganyaan will be a major mission ISRO will be collaborating with the Indian Air Force (IAF), whose pilots are now on a year-long astronaut training programme in Russia.
In this edition of 'Gaganyaan Unplugged,' ISRO chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan tells Onmanorma that India's first manned mission is meant to inspire the youth, the future generation, the young students, scientists, engineers and social scientists among others.
"Gaganyaan programme will bring the nation together, to achieve something much more than the programmatic goals," says Dr Sivan.
Ever since PM announced about the programme, it got national and global attention. The people in India, the Indian diaspora at large as well as other space-faring agencies are following this programme with great interest.
Gaganyaan is meant to bring together premier academic institutions, labs, industry as well as start-ups on a common platform to solve India specific problems.
Lot of young people wanted to contribute in Gaganyaan programme. Some of them wanted to be the first to fly in the crew module. We have a good mechanism to handle the public response.
A message we wanted to convey to the young people is that working in the field of research and development is all about hard work and passion. ISRO is one of the best employers and the low attrition rate is a pointer to it.
Complexities and targets
Gaganyaan programme has two major components. First part is engineering systems comprising of launch vehicle, orbital module, ground facilities etc.
The second component is human-centric systems comprising selecting the astronauts, training the astronauts, life support system for space flight, launching the astronaut(s) safely and bringing them back.
Thereafter, the astronaut(s) has to be rehabilitated for life back on earth.
As far as engineering system goes, ISRO has more than five decades of experience in these areas. However, our experience in the human-centric domain is limited.
The work on engineering systems is spread across ISRO centres and is being coordinated by the newly-created Human Spaceflight Centre (HSFC), presently co-located within ISRO HQ campus in Bangalore.
The human-centric systems are being designed and developed by HSFC. As our domain knowledge and experience is limited in the human centric systems, that gap is being addressed by collaborating with both national and international agencies in order to meet the schedule.
The industry throughput of space hardware has not only to meet the Gaganyaan requirements but also the ongoing launch vehicle and satellite activities.
There is a capacity crunch as the hardware requirement for both tests and flight is quite large. We are addressing the capacity crunch by adding new vendors to our pool.
However, adding a new vendor is a complex process as the manufacturing capability required is state-of-the-art with very high level of on-line and off-line quality control and assurance protocols.
The four selected candidates are undergoing training at Yuri A Gagarin State Scientific Research-and-Testing Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC) at Star City in Russia. The astronauts are undergoing nearly a year's training in General Space Flight, Survival Training as well as training on Soyuz systems.
After their return to India, they will get trained on Gaganyaan systems. This will include training on various types of simulators including virtual simulator as well as familiarisation with launch pad systems and crew recovery operations.
In addition, the astronauts will be trained to use various emergency kits and emergency protocols on-board Gaganyaan crew module. In nominal scenario, the entire flight and on-board activities are done using onboard autonomous systems.
The astronauts are only expected to do certain house-keeping activities and science experiments.
However, the astronauts are trained for unexpected scenarios when things do not go as per plan.
Majority of the training is designed to equip the astronauts to handle the unexpected situations.
Gaganyaan platform, by design, has additional margins and redundancy than our unmanned flight systems. Large number of tests are planned to demonstrate these margins on ground. Moreover, there is a provision of crew escape system, which provides continuous mission abort capability through the atmospheric phase of the flight.
The whole mission design philosophy is crew safety-centric unlike our unmanned missions, which are primarily performance centric.
Human spaceflight is an expensive domain and the returns are in the form of science and research. Meaningful research is generally carried over a long time period. However, the Gaganyaan module is only meant for seven days' space flight. Hence, it is imperative that in the long run, a space station is a must. However, a space station is a technology jump from a short spaceflight in a crew module.
To sustain life in space for long duration, we need much more systems than the facilities in Gaganyaan crew module. The space station will also require extra vehicular activity which needs a special spacesuit as well as special training for the astronauts in neutral buoyancy facility.
Science experiments prioritisation and selection for Indian space station will have to be carried out in a more systemic fashion to ensure that cutting edge science finds a place in the whole scheme of things given the cost involved. HSFC is tasked with developing technologies for the space station in future.
HSFC is temporarily functioning from ISRO HQ campus. Land has been identified for a permanent site, just 2-3 hours from Bengaluru.
The master plan, which includes offices, labs, integration facilities, test facilities as well as housing and other civic amenities, has been drawn. In the long run, a strong workforce of nearly a 1,000 will be working from this centre.
Since its inception, ISRO has focused on space technology and will continue to do that. In all other areas, ISRO plans to harness and utilise the expertise developed by Services, DRDO labs, CSIR labs and other premier academic and research organisations.
These collaborations in Gaganyaan are not aimed for a short term period, but will be for a long time. ISRO will continue to depend on these special expertises which these institutions have developed over the years.
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)