The Gaganyaan programme, an indigenous mission that would take Indian astronauts to space, was announced by the prime minister during his Independence day speech this year. The spacecraft, which is being developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), consists of a service module and a crew module, collectively known as the Orbital Module. It will circle Earth at a low-earth-orbit at an altitude of 300-400 km from earth for 5-7 days.
The payload will consist of:
- Crew module – spacecraft carrying human beings.
- Service module – powered by two liquid propellant engines.
It will be equipped with emergency escape and emergency mission abort.
Three astronauts have been selected for the country’s first manned mission to space, called Gaganyaan. ISRO aims to launch its maiden Human Space Mission, Gaganyaan to commemorate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.
Objectives of the Mission:
- Enhancement of science and technology levels in the country
- A national project involving several institutes, academia and industry
- Improvement of industrial growth
- Inspiring youth
- Development of technology for social benefits
- Improving international collaboration
Relevance of a Manned Space Mission for India:
Boost to industries: The Indian industry will find large opportunities through participation in the highly demanding Space missions. Gaganyaan Mission is expected will source nearly 60% of its equipment from the Indian private sector.
Employment: According to the ISRO chief, the Gaganyaan mission would create 15,000 new employment opportunities, 13,000 of them in private industry and the space organisation would need an additional manpower of 900.
Technological development: Human Space flights are a frontier field in science and technology. The challenges the Human Space Flights provide to India, and the benefits accruing from taking up those missions will be very high and will lead to further thrust for technological developments in India
Spurs research and development: It will boost good research and technology development. With a large number of researchers with proper equipment involved, HSF will thrust significant research in areas such as materials processing, astro-biology, resources 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 mainstream. It would inspire young generation into notable achievements and enable them to play their legitimate role in challenging future activities
Prestige: India will be the fourth 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 for astronauts:
- The astronauts will have to adapt to the change in gravitational field. The change in gravity affects hand-eye and head-eye coordination. Bones may lose minerals adding to the risk of osteoporosis related fractures.
- Lack of exercise and improper diet make them lose muscle strength and cause them to develop vision problems.
- Once they are in space, astronauts will receive over 10 times more radiation than what people are subjected to on earth. It can cause cancer, nervous system damage and trigger nausea, vomiting, and anorexia and fatigue. Without pressure, human blood heats up.
- Despite the training, behavioural issues may crop up due to isolation leading to depression, fatigue, sleep disorders and psychiatric disorders.
Critical Technologies for Human Space Flight (HSF): According to ISRO, most of the indigenously developed technologies required for the mission have already been tested. These include crew module re-entry, crew escape mechanism in case of a glitch during launch, a deep space network and the astronaut’s space suit.
- Orbital Module: Divided into a crew module to house the astronauts and a service module that maintains the speed and orientation of the spacecraft using rocket motors apart from the power supply generated from solar sails.
- Crew Escape System: In case of a malfunction at launch, crew capsule will be ejected to a safe distance
- Integration facility: for integrating orbit module with launcher and modifying Launchpad for human interface
- Crew Module: Has to be tested for maintaining temperature and pressure comfortable for humans
- Deep Space Network: Need to track the module 24*7 as it orbits the earth
- Re-entry and Recovery system: System to withstand high temperatures (due to friction with the air) when the spacecraft re-enters earth’s atmosphere.
- Mission Control: Monitors and communicates with the orbiter and astronauts throughout the mission
- Rocket Launcher: The GSLV Mark III has been modified to improve reliability and accommodate orbital module
- Recovery logistics: ISRO will interface with the Navy to pick up the astronauts when the crew module splashes down.
- Astronaut Training: Crew has to be trained to operate in zero gravity, withstand high g-forces on launch and re-entry. ISRO might seek foreign collaboration for astronaut training.
1. Technological Challenges
- Launcher: Though the GSLV Mk III has been modified to enable human space flights, to be human rated and fail-safe. Former ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan points out that for a human space flight, the launcher must have a reliability of 98% or above, or only two failures in a 100 launches.
- Crew 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 is as high as to allow a failure rate of only one in 500 launches.
- 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.
2. Threat from Space Debris: There is increasing threat of Space debris in the low earth orbits which can result in depressurization of the cabin of the crew module in case of collision with small debris.
3. Financial Implications: Human space flight missions are not one-time investments required for demonstrating national capability but have to be continued in human space flight pursuit with national gain. Therefore, the financial implications are of a concern
4. Political commitment: Ensuring political commitment for HSF in the democratic, multi-party framework of India – which has to deal with aspirations of Indian society is a major challenge
- The success of the mission will rekindle public imagination and get the young generation interested in space in particular and science in general.
- The astronauts would carry out a series of experiments, particularly microgravity experiments.
- India’s quest to undertake human space flight and its earlier Moon and Mars missions proves the growing sophistication of India’s space program and ensures a seat at the high table of global governance of outer space.
- The mission would create 15,000 new employment opportunities, 13,000 of them in private industry.
- If India does launch the Gaganyaan mission, it will be the fourth nation to do so after the United States, Russia and China.