Human Space Programme: Gaganyaan

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    • Recently, the Indian Space & Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully conducted a 25-second qualification test for its liquid propellant-based Vikas engine to be used under the Gaganyaan mission.

    About 

    • The test was conducted to check the robustness of the engine by operating beyond its nominal operating conditions. 
    •  The engine met the test objectives and the engine parameters were closely matched with the predictions during the entire duration of the test.
    • The space agency conducted a qualification test for 720 seconds of its cryogenic upper stage earlier. 
      • The engine will undergo four more tests totalling 1,810 seconds and the other engine will undergo two short duration and one long-duration test before the cryogenic stage is qualified for the Gaganyaan mission.
    • This is especially important after the failure of the GSLV F10 mission in August 2021 when the cryogenic engine did not ignite due to a small drop in pressure in the fuel tank, even though the cryogenic engine for the GSLV MkIII is different.

    Gaganyaan Mission

    • It envisages undertaking the demonstration of human spaceflight to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in the short term and will lay the foundation for a sustained Indian human space exploration programme in the long run
      • Low-Earth orbit (often known as LEO) encompasses Earth-centered orbits with an altitude of 2,000 km (1,200 mi) or less.
    • Objective:
      •  to demonstrate the indigenous capability to undertake human space flight missions to LEO
        • As part of this programme, two unmanned missions and one manned mission are approved by the Government of India (GoI).
      • Delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and successive lockdowns, Gaganyaan, will be launched in 2023.
    • This manned mission will be the first of ISRO’s human spaceflight missions.
      • The US, Russia and China are the only three countries to have conducted human spaceflights yet.
    • Launched by: 
    • ISRO’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle GSLV Mk III (3 stages heavy-lift vehicle)

    • Image courtesy: TOI
    • Total cost: Rs 9023.00 crores.

    Significance

    • It will help India in achieving self-reliance, in line with the vision of Atma Nirbhar Bharat and also boost the capacity development in launching satellites under the Make in India Initiative.
    • It will reduce India’s dependence on foreign cooperation in this direction.
    • It will also enhance the research and development (R&D) at science and technology levels especially in the space sector.
    • Gaganyaan will focus on regional needs because one International Space Station (ISS) may not be enough to cater to global requirements.
    • Progress towards a sustained and affordable human and robotic programme to explore the solar system and beyond.
    • Ample scope for employment generation and human resource development in advanced science and R&D activities.
    • The programme will strengthen international partnerships and global security through the sharing of challenging and peaceful goals.  

    Challenges

    • Environmental Hazards: Hostile space environment with a lack of gravity and atmosphere and danger of radiation.
    • Astronauts may have medical issues due to:
    • Microgravity: Transition from one gravity field to another affects hand-eye and head-eye coordination leading to orientation-loss, vision, muscle strength, aerobic capacity, etc.
    • Isolation: Behavioural issues are likely to crop up when astronauts are confined into small spaces and have to rely on limited resources. 
      • They may encounter depression, cabin fever, fatigue, sleep disorder and other psychiatric disorders.
    • Artificial Atmosphere: There are two choices for an artificial atmosphere, either an Earth-like mixture of oxygen in inert gas or pure oxygen. 
      • A pure or concentrated oxygen atmosphere is toxic and has fire risk, especially in ground operations.
    • Aerospace Technology Challenges
    • Launch Escape System: Space flight requires much higher velocities than air transportation. Travelling in a rocket is like sitting on an exploding bomb with a speed increasing from 0 to over 25,000 km per hour in a few minutes. Anything may go wrong during the launch and pre and post phases, including the explosion of the rocket.

    Suggestions

    • To tackle microgravity inside the crew acceptable atmospheric pressure has to be maintained.
    • All the things necessary for supporting the physiological needs of astronauts, like food, water, medicine, and human waste removal have to be addressed.
    • A well-developed Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) is needed to supply the essentials, maintain the acceptable environment and deal with the management of waste products.
    • The ECLSS maintains steady cabin pressure and air composition, removes carbon dioxide and other harmful gases, controls temperature and humidity and also manages the other important parameters like fire detection and suppression, food and water management and emergency support.
    • Shielding against harmful external influences such as radiation and micro-meteorites is also ensured.
    • The use of a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere before launch and low-pressure pure oxygen only in space is considered a safer option. 
    • Ground testing will have to be followed by tests in the space orbit while simulating zero gravity and deep vacuum
    • Launch escape system safety features have to be built to minimize the loss and warning of anything abnormal
    • The crew and mission control team require extensive training to prepare. They also need to familiarize themselves with panel buttons and other man-machine interfaces within the crew module and various safety drills.

    Source:IE