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2.04.2024

Gaganyaan Mission: Indian Space Programme’s Stepping Stone Into Future

In 1962, Vikram Sarabhai, the Father of the Indian Space Programme, termed lunar exploration and human spaceflight a ‘fantasy’.

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Gaganyaan Mission: Indian Space Programme’s Stepping Stone Into Future

Five years after announcing India’s human spaceflight programme, Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month bestowed astronaut wings to four astronaut-designates for the Gaganyaan mission, the country’s first human spaceflight mission. 

In 2018, Modi announced India’s ascent into space. He said an Indian will be sent to space on an Indian platform by 2022. While that timeline has been extended because of the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Indian space programme is moving in that direction. 

“We have a dream. Our scientists have a dream. We have resolved that, by 2022, when India celebrates 75 years of Independence or maybe even before that, certainly some of our young boys and girls will unfurl the Tricolour in space. With Mangalyaan our scientists have proved their capabilities. I feel proud to announce that very soon as a part of our manned space mission, we shall be sending an Indian into space,” said Modi in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

While India had been on the path to doing away with yesteryear’s Earth-centric approach to space with the exploratory Chandrayaan programme starting in 2008, the Gaganyaan mission’s announcement was the most conclusive step in the direction. In 1962, Vikram Sarabhai, the Father of the Indian Space Programme, termed lunar exploration and human spaceflight a “fantasy”. While the Chandrayaan-3, which landed on the Moon last year, achieved the first fantasy, Gaganyaan is set to achieve the second and put India in the league of spacefaring’s big players.

The Gaganyaan mission is set to be a stepping stone into the Indian space programme’s future but there is still a long road ahead to the fruition of the stated ambitions. While India has achieved many firsts, such as the Moon landing and mission to the Sun, in recent years, India only has a nascent —albeit growing and promising— private space ecosystem and a small share of the overall space economy. 

While the Indian Space Policy has liberalised the space sector and the Modi government has eased the foreign direct investment (FDI) norms, these are still the first steps towards the realisation of the ambitious goals set out. Space scientist Manish Purohit says that we need at least three to four years to get an idea of how these steps play out. 

“The Indian Space Policy has only been around for a year or so. As far as the private ecosystem is concerned, the United States developed it in the 1960s which we have only started working on in the past few years. So, there is still a lot of capacity-building to be done. We need a few years to see how ISP and FDI-related measures play out for the space programme and private space industry in India,” says Purohit, a former scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Indian space agency. 

As for the Gaganyaan mission, it is expected to be the first of a series of milestones that India intends to achieve. By 2035, India will have a space station and it will land Indians on the Moon by 2040, according to the Modi government’s announcement. Space policy researcher Pranav R Satyanath says that these are ambitious timelines but “they can be achieved with sufficient international cooperation and private sector involvement”.

To realise such ambitious goals, the Department of Space will develop a roadmap for Moon exploration and it will encompass a series of Chandrayaan missions, the development of a Next Generation Launch Vehicle (NGLV), the construction of a new launch pad, and the setting up of human-centric laboratories and associated technologies, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which oversees the Department of Space (DoS), last year. 

The PMO’s statement further said that PM Modi “called upon Indian scientists to work towards interplanetary missions that would include a Venus Orbiter Mission and a Mars Lander”.

What Is Gaganyaan Mission?

The Gaganyaan mission intends to take four Indian astronauts to the low earth orbit (LEO) of about 400 km above the Earth for a period of three days. It is being steered by ISRO’s Human Spaceflight Centre (HSFC).

While the initial target for the Gaganyaan’s launch was 2022, the latest updates from the government put the launch sometime in 2025. There will be three dry runs before the human mission lifts off.

The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk III (LVM-3) is set to deposit the astronauts in space. Once in space, the capsule at the ‘nose’ of the rocket will detach and, upon the completion of the mission, will splash down in the seas on Earth from where the Indian authorities will recover it and bring the astronauts ashore. The LVM-3 is also in the process of being reconfigured as it needs to be human-rated before getting the green light for the mission as it has never flown a human before.

The astronauts’ capsule —formally called the orbital module (OM)— comprises a crew module (CM) and a service module (SM). The CM simulates pressurised Earth-like environments for the astronauts. The OM is equipped with state-of-the-art avionics systems with adequate redundancy for human safety. 

The CM replicates Earth’s environment with its double-walled construction consisting of a pressurised metallic inner structure and unpressurised external structure with a thermal protection system (TPS), according to ISRO. The CM further houses the crew interfaces, human-centric products, life support systems, avionics, and deceleration systems, and it is also designed for re-entry to ensure the safety of the crew during descent till touchdown, according to ISRO.

The SM will be used to provide necessary support to CM while in orbit. It is an unpressurised structure containing the thermal system, propulsion system, power systems, avionics systems, and deployment mechanisms.

The capsule also has a crew escape system (CES). It is the mechanism through which astronauts in the CM are ejected to a safe distance from the spacecraft in case the mission has to be aborted because of any emergency during either the lift-off or ascent to space. Once astronauts eject, they are retrieved upon landing on the Earth and are extracted to safety. 

 

The ISRO’s HFSC is engaged in research and development (R&D) activities in fields such as life support systems, human factors engineering, bioastronautics, crew training, and human rating and certification, according to ISRO. 

The ISRO further says, “These areas would constitute important components for future sustained human space flight activities like rendezvous and docking, space station-building, and interplanetary collaborative manned missions to Moon/Mars and near-earth asteroids.”

How Is Gaganyaan Stepping Stone Into The Future Of Indian Space Programme?

After a break of decades, the spacefaring nations are again aiming for the Moon and beyond. Last year, the world witnessed an unlikely space race when India’s Chandrayaan-3 and Russia’s Luna-25 were competing to be the first to land on the South Pole of the Moon. After the Luna-25 mission failed, the Chandrayaan-3 achieved the historic first on August 23, 2023. 

The current round of interest in space is, however, not like the US-Soviet Union space race of the Cold War era. It is not merely about planting the national flag on the Moon and sending your astronauts to space to make a point, but about laying the groundwork for developing a full-fledged space economy and establishing a long-term presence on the Moon and beyond. This is also where India’s Gaganyaan mission comes into the picture. 

Unlike conventional space missions so far where aerospace engineering and satellite fabrication were the main disciplines involved, human spaceflight is inherently an interdisciplinary endeavour, says Prof. Aloke Kumar, whose lab at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, is developing biological payloads for the Gaganyaan mission.

“The role of the rocket is to launch the space capsule and astronauts in space. Once there, they will require life-support systems, space-focussed medicine, and electrical systems to sustain their stay and their spacecraft’s systems. As biological and chemical experiments will also be conducted, biologists and chemists will also be needed. Human spaceflight is truly interdisciplinary and finally, India is ready to enter this new frontier,” says Kumar, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IISc Bengaluru. 

It is expected that in the dry runs of Gaganyaan, biological payloads will be tested in the microgravity of space. Kumar tells Outlook that their payload comprises bacteria in an automated closed unit and, once in space, they will study the bacteria’s growth in microgravity and then draw insights into it and compare it with the growth on Earth. The bacteria will be fed nutrients via an automated fluid delivery system. “Very few experiments of such kind have been performed. NASA is at the forefront, but we are also taking welcome first steps now,” says Kumar.

Kumar further says that such experiments are the stepping stones to the colonisation of space. Explaining the idea behind the experiments, he says that the intention is to understand the effect of space on biology. “We are checking if Earth’s microorganisms can survive in the microgravity environment and radiation of space. This we hope will be a first step for us for more ambitious experiments. Simultaneously, we are developing ground-based labs where we can simulate some of the conditions of the Moon or Mars,” says Kumar.

The Gaganyaan mission is also of course the stepping stone to the eventual landing on the Moon. The technologies developed would also be central to the Indian space station. This way, a lot hinges on the success of the Gaganyaan mission. Unlike the US-USSR space race of the Cold War era, where going to space and landing on the Moon was the end goal, the Gaganyaan and other missions in the motion are intended as enablers. Space scientist Manish Purohit says the Gaganyaan mission will enable India’s rise as a truly spacefaring nation as the technologies developed will go a long way.

“Since the beginning of spacefaring, space missions have always had a spin-off effect. Technologies like CT scan and something as common as velcro have origins in space missions. As India develops technical know-how for the Gaganyaan, there will be a broader scientific and technical R&D boost which will also bring commercial benefits to India,” says Purohit. 

While the Gaganyaan is quite different from the US-USSR space race, space policy researcher Pranav R Satyanath says that the objectives are still similar. “The Gaganyaan’s objectives are not that different from the objectives that the US and the USSR wanted to achieve during the Cold War. Human spaceflight is primarily about showcasing a country’s scientific and technological prowess,” says Satyanath, Research Associate, Council for Strategic and Defense Research (CSDR).

Satyanath also highlights that the Gaganyaan will have follow-up missions and it will be the beginning of a sustained human spacefaring by India. “ISRO will likely send more astronauts to space and perform manoeuvres such as docking and extravehicular activities. These follow-on missions will help ISRO refine procedures in human spaceflight and contribute to helping build a knowledge base for constructing a space station. It is also possible that the Gaganyaan follow-on missions will carry astronauts from other countries as a diplomatic gesture,” says Satyanath. 

Eyes On Space Economy

While it may not be one of the more highlighted aspects of the Gaganyaan mission, it’s a fact that India aspires to be a major player in the space economy and the Gaganyaan mission is central to such ambitions. Once India and its launch vehicles demonstrate the capacity to reach LEO, several doors of commercial partnerships will open for India.

“Private players are already keen to use India’s launch platforms and once LVM-3 demonstrates its capacity with the Gaganyaan, the doors for much more private-public partnership will open,” says Purohit. 

The space economy is understood to be around $518.48 billion by 2023 and is anticipated to touch $1,110.84 billion by 2030 with an annual growth of 8.9 per cent, according to a report by CoherentMI, a global market intelligence firm. As per official estimates, India currently has a share of around 2 per cent of this economy. The Modi government has said that India has the potential to acquire around 9 per cent of this share by 2030. 

Additionally, Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Department of Space, told the Parliament in December 2023 that the government estimates that the Indian space economy stands at around $8.4 billion, of which 80 per cent is ‘downstream’ —services— and 20 per cent is ‘upstream’ — satellite and launch operations. He further said that the size of the Indian space economy is expected to rise to $44 billion by 2033 and the current rate of growth is around 8 per cent per year.

The Challenges Ahead

While India has ambitious plans for the Indian space programme and has had a great run in recent years, many challenges are yet to be overcome. The first among them, say multiple people associated with various aspects of the space programme, is the human resources problem. They say that while India is setting ambitious timelines and is going ahead with announcements, Indian institutions are not producing enough professionals to cater to the demand. 

Prof. Aloke Kumar of IISc Bengaluru says we need to get there very fast to keep up with the ambitions and the demand. “We need many more space-associated professionals. We need aerospace engineers to cater to the increasing launch market. We also need more people in the interdisciplinary aspects of space missions, such as professionals specialising in space medicine, biochemistry, and space-centric electronics. We also need a lot more professionals to analyse data being generated by satellites and cater to the emerging space economy such as satellite internet or space manufacturing. Things are definitely changing but they need to change faster,” he says.

Even though India has liberalised the space sector and is going ahead with human spaceflight ambitions, space policy researcher Pranav R Satyanath points out there is still a lack of clarity on human missions. 

“Although the Gaganyaan programme was announced in 2018, ISRO or any other government body have not put out a human spaceflight strategy in public which clearly lays down the objectives of human spaceflight and future plans. Such a document is necessary to ensure India’s human spaceflight programme is on the right track and achieves the set objectives in the most effective manner possible,” says Satyanath of the think tank Council for Strategic and Defense Research (CSDR).

While the policy constraints can be addressed by the government, the systemic challenges are much harder to overcome. In India, the launch operations are the monopoly of the government. Minister of State in the Department of Space Jitendra Singh told the Parliament in December 2023: “The upstream market, that is satellite and launch operations, is primarily contributed by government, with private sector in a vendor-oriented role towards manufacturing and delivering subsystems/components.”

In the absence of any Indian equivalent of SpaceX or Blue Origin, there are severe limitations on India’s exploitation of the space economy. Moreover, space scientist Manish Purohit points out that there is currently no launch vehicle to reach the Moon, so that capacity also needs to be worked upon. As for the lack of private players of the likes of SpaceX, Purohit says that there is still a bright side for India.

“In times to come, launch vehicles and satellites will comprise around 30-40 per cent of the space economy and the rest 60-70 per cent will be services-centric. Just like the information technology (IT) sector, if we train a space-centric workforce, India has the potential to capture a major chunk of this space services-centric economy,” says Purohit, adding that there remains an HR crunch for the space sector.

The ISRO is working to address the HR crunch but there needs to be an all-hands-on-deck approach for the proper redressal of the issue, says Purohit, a satellite power systems expert who has worked previously at ISRO.

Quelle: Outlook

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Update: 5.04.2024

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Crew of India’s Gaganyaan spacecraft passes intense training in Russia — Indian cosmonaut

Rakesh Sharma emphasized that the thorough training of the Indian national crew also shows "the cooperative nature of Roscomos"

The crew of the Gaganyaan, India’s first national spacecraft which is slated to go on its maiden space voyage in late 2025, has undergone an intensely in-depth training course at Russia’s Star City training center, first Indian cosmonaut and Hero of the Soviet Union Rakesh Sharma, who also prepared for a space flight at Star City, told TASS.

"I think the training was more in depth. In my case, there was a very, very short time. And I think the aims of the flight were also different. To be very frank, I think since the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was not preparing for manned space programs, my flight had more of a geopolitical meaning. So, as you know, 40 years have now elapsed since I went on that flight; it's only now that we are embarking upon a manned space program," Sharma said. "The training that the current crop of four ‘gaganauts’ have received has been a lot more in-depth and more substantive [than my pre-flight training was]."

Sharma emphasized that the thorough training of the Indian national crew also shows "the cooperative nature of Roscomos." "In the future, we will probably be needing to work together," he believes.

In August 2018, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially announced that his country would send the first national space crew into orbit by August 2022, when India would be celebrating 75 years of liberation from British colonial rule. The project's name Gaganyaan (derived from the Sanskrit word for heaven: "gagana") means "celestial ship." However, due to delays stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, which halted most work on the project in March 2020, the Gaganyaan mission is now scheduled for 2025. Four crew members have already been trained at Russia's Star City and are now continuing their training in India.

India's first cosmonaut, Rakesh Sharma, was a squadron commander in the Indian Air Force in 1982 when he was selected for an international Soviet-Indian space flight and trained at Star City in the Soviet Union. Sharma was part of the crew of the Soyuz T-11 spacecraft, along with Soviet cosmonauts Yury Malyshev and Gennady Strekalov. The spacecraft launched on April 3, 1984 and docked with the Salyut-7 orbital station. The international crew returned to Earth on April 11, 1984. Sharma's flight lasted 7 days, 21 hours and 41 minutes.

Quelle: TASS

 

 

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