ISRO to build three sets of GSLV rockets, crew and service modules for Gaganyaan

ISRO is also working on a framework to find 30 astronauts, out of which the final 3 will be chosen.

The Indian Space Research Organisation may have scored a big win in getting its Rs 10,000-crore budget for its first human space mission, Gaganyaan, approved. But it has a considerable amount of work to do before the test flights take off.

Of crucial importance to the mission is the human-rating of its systems and technology — including and especially the Gaganyaan rocket (GSLV-MkIII) itself, which continues to be a work-in-progress for now. Human-rating of a technology or system is its capability to safely transport humans. An important factor in human-rating is how efficiently it can protect the crew in case of any failures.

"There is a lot of work ahead of us. We could not have gone ahead without money being approved as the mission needs a lot of new testing and development that is cost sensitive," K Sivan, chairman of ISRO told The Times of India. 

The mighty GSLV-MkIII will be the rocket modified with a crew module for the astronauts in the manned mission. Image courtesy: ISRO

The mighty GSLV-MkIII will be the rocket modified with a crew module for the astronauts in the manned mission. Image courtesy: ISRO

Gaganyaan: The biggest expenses 

The bulk of the mission's expenditure is being spent to build ISRO's capabilities in human spaceflight for the first time. A minimum of 50 percent of the mission's Rs 10,000 crore approved expense is being set aside for human-rating. Also adding to a chunk of the cost is a new launch pad that can accommodate the entry of astronauts.

ISRO will build three sets of the mission's requirements — the Gaganyaan (GSLV-MkIII) rocket, the crew module and the service module for the mission. Each set will be put to use to carry out the two unmanned test missions chalked out for December 2020 and June-July 2021, and the final mission, which is slated for a December 2021 or early 2022 liftoff.

Since the time GSLV has been ideated and brought into active development since 2002, ISRO engineers have envisioned its used in a future manned mission, according to S Somnath, director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), who gave a presentation recently of the pending work in the Gaganyaan mission, ToI reported.

Crew Module along with the escape capsule on display at the Bangalore Space Expo in 2018. Image courtesy: ISRO/Twitter

Crew Module along with the escape capsule on display at the Bangalore Space Expo in 2018. Image courtesy: ISRO/Twitter

More redundancy, more reliability

All launch vehicle systems destined for space are designed with redundancies, but a mission with humans needs a much higher degree of redundancy. ISRO's target reliability is 99 percent for a human-rated the launch vehicle, and 99.8 percent for a crew escape system, Somnath told ToI.

Both these systems are being redesigned by ISRO engineers. New architectural changes are being made to the escape system underway and redundancies being incorporated into the GSLV-MkIII for good measure and added safety.

The ISRO space suit for astronauts in the Gaganyaan mission, displayed at the Bengaluru Space Expo. Image: Twitter/Nagarjun Dwarkanath

The ISRO space suit for astronauts in the Gaganyaan mission, displayed at the Bengaluru Space Expo. Image: Twitter/Nagarjun Dwarkanath

Rockets are autonomous after launch, and can't be given the slightest wiggle-room to fail, according to Somnath. "Even if one system fails, we’ll bring the crew back. The most important thing is failure detection and onboard intelligence that tells the system to abort."

For this, new algorithms that feed into the crew escape and service module systems are being worked on currently. Also in production is an indigenous computer and microprocessors for the mission.

"Control systems, avionics and sensors are ready,” Somnath said.

Astronaut training

The selection and training of astronauts for the mission will also take up a considerable amount of the budget — roughly 10 percent, according to Sivan. It will include building new facilities to accommodate training equipment and expertise beyond physical strength and endurance.

Astronauts training in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at NASA to simulate the experience of the long duration and feeling of a spacewalk. Image: NASA

Astronauts training in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at NASA to simulate the experience of the long duration and feeling of a spacewalk. Image: NASA

Apart from the contributions of the Indian Air Force in recruiting and training the candidates, the Institute of Aerospace Medicine will help with also contribute to systems for selection and training of the astronauts in India.

ISRO is currently creating a framework for the selection process, and looking at a pool of 30 astronauts from which a crew of three will be selected for the final mission.

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