Gaganyaan: Indian Human Spaceflight Programme

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Gaganyaan is an Indian crewed orbital spacecraft that will serve as the foundation for the country’s human spaceflight programme. The spaceship will be able to carry three people, and an updated version will be able to rendezvous and dock with other spacecraft. The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) mostly autonomous 5.3 metric tonnes spacecraft will circle the Earth at 400 km altitude for up to seven days with a two or three-person crew on board in its debut crewed mission. The first crewed mission was scheduled to launch aboard ISRO’s GSLV Mk III in December 2021, but that date has been pushed back to no earlier than 2023.

The first uncrewed testing flight of this Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) crew module took place on December 18, 2014. The crew module’s design has been finalised as of May 2019. Critical human-centric systems and technology including as space-grade food, crew healthcare, radiation measurement and protection, parachutes for the safe recovery of the crew module, and a fire suppression system will be supported by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). While the first uncrewed Gaganyaan launch has been delayed owing to the COVID-19 epidemic in India, the overall timeframe for crewed launches is projected to remain unaffected, according to an announcement made on June 11, 2020.

Gaganyaan’s preliminary research and development began in 2006 under the generic name “Orbital Vehicle.” The idea was to create a basic capsule with a week in space endurance, a capacity for two astronauts, and a splashdown landing after re-entry. By March 2008, the design had been finalised and had been presented to the Indian government for funding. The Indian Human Spaceflight Programme was approved in February 2009, but due to a lack of developmental money, it fell short. The orbital vehicle’s first uncrewed flight was originally scheduled for 2013, but was then pushed back to 2016. However, it was reported in April 2012 that financing issues had put the project’s future in jeopardy, and in August 2013, it was stated that all Indian crewed spaceflight attempts had been declared as “off ISRO’s priority list.” The project was re-evaluated in early 2014, and it was one of the key beneficiaries of a significant budget increase announced in February 2014. ISRO is basing the Gaganyaan orbital vehicle on their scaled 550 kilogramme Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE), which was launched and recovered in January 2007.

The most recent push for the Indian Human Spaceflight Program occurred in 2017, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed and formally announced it on August 15, 2018. The present plan calls for a three-person crew. During the Gaganyaan mission, ISRO will conduct four biological and two physical research investigations linked to microgravity. ISRO intends to use hydroxylammonium nitrate (HAN), ammonium nitrate, methanol, and water in place of hydrazine in the Gaganyaan mission, for which the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) is already developing a monopropellant blended formulation consisting of hydroxylammonium nitrate (HAN), ammonium nitrate, methanol, and water. ISRO has chosen five science projects to be carried out on Gaganyaan as of October 2021. Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad (UASD), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), IIT Patna, Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), and Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCARS) will develop the payloads (JNCASR). Two of the five are biological investigations that will be carried out by IIST, UASD, and TIFR, and will look at kidney stone formation and the impact of the Sirtuin 1 gene marker in Drosophila melanogaster. IIT Patna will conduct research on a heat sink that can withstand high heat flux, IICT will investigate crystallisation, and JNCASR will examine fluid mixing features.

The Gaganyaan mission, which is scheduled to launch in 2023 with three Indian astronauts, will splash down near the Indian shore. New information about the landing zone options, which might be in the Arabian Sea or the Bay of Bengal, has surfaced. In an essay in Manorama Yearbook 2022, Dr Unnikrishnan Nair, Director, Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC), Isro, discusses the mission’s progress, which could see its first uncrewed flight by the end of this year. The Crew Escape System, which will be part of the module, is now being validated by the Human Space Flight Centre.

The Gaganyaan Orbital Module (OM) is made up of two parts: the Crew Module (CM) and the Service Module (SM), and it weighs around 8,000 kg. The OM will orbit the Earth at a speed of around 7,800 metres per second when in orbit. A Human Rated Launch Vehicle (HRLV), a modified variant of the GSLV MK-III launch vehicle, will launch the Orbital module. Dr. Nair points out that the Command Module (CM), a double-walled structure and astronaut home, features an ablative Thermal Protection System (TPS) to shield it from the high aerodynamic heating throughout the flight. The Command Module, which is equipped with a survival packet for each crew that can sustain them for roughly two days, will be recovered by recovery team upon landing in either of the two sites. The crew, which consists of four officers from the Indian Air Force (IAF), has finished the overseas part of their training and is now working on the Indian portion. They had generic space flight training in Russia, and the Indian leg will see them familiarising themselves with all possible scenarios that may arise while in flight.

Development timeline of Gaganyaan
Flight Date Regime Crew Notes Outcome
Re-entry Test 18 December 2014 Sub-orbital N/A Sub-orbital test of scaled down boilerplate Gaganyaan capsule, launched aboard the sub-orbital first test flight of ISRO’s GSLV Mark III rocket. Success
Pad Abort Test 5 July 2018 Atmospheric N/A 4-minute test of Gaganyaan’s Launch abort system from launch pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre. Success
G1 Q1 2023 LEO N/A First orbital test flight of Gaganyaan capsule. Planned
G2 Q4 2023 LEO N/A Second orbital test flight of Gaganyaan capsule. Planned
H1 2024 LEO  TBA
TBA
TBA
First crewed flight of Gaganyaan, will carry 1-3 Indian astronauts on a short orbital test flight. Planned

 

The rocket will inject the spacecraft into an orbit 300–400 km (190–250 mi) above Earth around 16 minutes after liftoff from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Sriharikota. Before reentry, the spacecraft’s service module and solar panels will be discarded. The capsule would return to the Bay of Bengal for a parachute splashdown.

Vyommitra is a female-looking spacefaring humanoid robot being built by India’s Space Research Organisation for use on the Gaganyaan, a crewed orbital spaceship. Vyommitra was initially shown on January 22, 2020 in Bengaluru at the Human Spaceflight and Exploration symposium. It will travel to space with Indian astronauts and will also participate in uncrewed experimental Gaganyaan missions prior to crewed spaceflight missions.

Unlike other nations that have achieved human space flight, ISRO does not intend to fly animals on experimental missions. Instead, it will fly humanoid robots to learn more about the effects of weightlessness and radiation on the human body over lengthy periods of time in space. Vyommitra will fly onboard uncrewed Gaganyaan missions to conduct microgravity experiments, monitor module parameters, and assist astronauts on crewed trips by imitating human-like activities. It can speak Hindi and English and complete a variety of activities. It has the ability to imitate human behaviour, recognise other humans, and answer to their questions. Technically, it can control the environment and provide life support, as well as operate switch panels and provide environmental air pressure change notifications.

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