The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is setting up a Human Space Flight Centre to carry out the country’s maiden manned mission into space by 2021. Billed as the great Indian human leap to space, Gaganyaan will pave the way for India’s entry into space exploration.
Launched five months after the programme was unveiled, the new organisation will be based out of Bengaluru. It will be in charge of all human-related space activities at the ISRO, and operate on a new management structure with senior scientist Unnikrishnan Nair as its director. Nair had earlier led ISRO’s Advanced Space Transportation Programme at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre.
ISRO chairman K. Sivan on Friday further named R. Hutton as the project director for Gaganyaan. Hailing from Thiruvananthapuram, Hutton currently helms the PSLV light vehicle programme.
Work on sending men and women to space will soon be underway at the new Human Space Flight Centre, accompanied by a dedicated team of 800-900 people. Most of the recruits is probably going to be from ISRO’s own Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram. A handful of deputy directors each for the centre and the project have also been picked.
Here’s what ISRO said
Sivan elucidated on ISRO’s future plans, thanking the government for approving Rs 10,000 crore for Gaganyaan, saying it could be a major turning point for ISRO, and help it expand its activities beyond engineering activities of launchers and satellites into the realm of developing and handling technologies to sustain humans in space.
“The year 2019 has started with a big bang with Gaganyaan getting the government’s approval and budget for putting threre astronauts in space for seven days,” Sivan said.
Elaborating on the task at hand, he further said, “When you are talking about Gaganyaan, we have to select a human being, train him and send him to space in a condition that is conducive for him to live and then return to earth. There are two aspects that we have to build — engineering and human science. The human science aspect is new for ISRO.”
He said that the initial training will be done at the Institute for Aerospace Medicine in Bengaluru, while most of the advanced training will take place in Russia. “We want women astronauts too (to be part of the mission). In my opinion, we have to train both men and women,” said Sivan.
“The unmanned vehicles will be of the same type as the manned flight vehicle and we will monitor extensively if the systems are working. In case there are some deficiencies, we will correct them after the unmanned missions. These unmanned missions are meant to give us the confidence that we are ready for the manned mission,” Sivan was quoted by the Indian Express.
The ISRO director further said that the space agency’s human space programme would not end with Gaganyaan. At a time when the country is giving rise to cutting edge technology start-ups, Sivan said ISRO is open to collaborating for space missions including Gaganyaan.
Role in Gaganyaan
Sivan explained, “All work related to the mission will formally begin now,” including the schedule, blueprint of various tasks, astronaut selection with the Indian Air Force and systems based on the project report. However, according to news reports, the nodal Human Space Programme Office set up six months back will continue to coordinate mission affairs at the headquarters here, Antariksh Bhavan.
One of the primary tasks at hand for the Gaganyaan prep team would be to ensure that the heavy lift launch vehicle GSLV MarkIII — which registered its second successive flight in a row last year — is suitably certified or human-rated. The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk III), ISRO’s biggest rocket, is expected to send three Indians into space from the Sriharikota space port in Andhra Pradesh.
“The HSPC will work full steam now. We must select the astronauts, train them, create and ensure livable conditions in space for them bring them back safely and later rehabilitate them in their routine,” the ISRO director said. The organisation aims to achieve this through setting up six incubation centres across the country.
Source close to the development have informed that ISRO is planning to have the first unmanned mission in December 2020. The second non-crew flight is targeted for July 2021. For the first manned mission, the target is December 2021, to meet the Prime Minister’s goal of August 2022, India’s 75th year of Independence.
Plans for the mission so far
As part of the highly anticipated mission, the astronauts will orbit Earth from an altitude of 400 km, for up to seven days. Last September, at the Bengaluru Space Expo, the space agency gave a preview of the manned mission.
The Gaganyaan system module will reportedly have a service module along with a crew module. It will also be equipped with major technological advancements from ISRO, including a new thermal protection system, and crew escape system. ISRO also showcased a new spacesuit that it had developed at its Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre over the last two years.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.