T.S. Subramanian

Complex mission calls for fabrication of several components

CHENNAI: India’s manned mission to space has taken a small step forward with the fabrication of the ergonomic model of the crew module that will take two Indian astronauts into space in seven years from now.

This model has already arrived at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, from Bangalore. It has panels for the astronauts to operate and train. A metal model was earlier fabricated. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) calls its manned mission ‘Indian Human Space Flight Programme.’

In a recent interview, VSSC Director K. Radhakrishnan said the mission’s objective was to send a two-member crew into space in low-earth orbit at an altitude of 275 km to 400 km, “orbit them for about seven days and bring them back safely” to earth. It would be a sea-landing, either in the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea. The module with the crew will be recovered from sea.

The complex mission called for fabrication of several components: a crew module with enough space for three astronauts; environment control and life-support systems for the astronauts; flight suits; and a highly reliable vehicle.

The ISRO’s Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) would be used in the initial flights to carry the crew into space. The vehicle had to be improved with high reliability to be called “a human rated vehicle” — to put humans into space. In the initial missions, GSLV-Mark II would be used to carry two astronauts.

Dr. Radhakrishnan said: “Later, when the GSLV-Mark III is ready, we should be able to take at least three members. The crew module is designed in such a way that three persons can be accommodated. However, initially, we will put two in space. Here, the improvement and reliability of the vehicle is important.”

A new element is that the crew module will have a crew escape system (CES). If a mishap were to be expected in any phase of the mission, either in the launch pad, initial phase of the flight or towards the orbit, the CES would be able to detach the crew from the rocket. “The CES will have the ability to sense the mishap a few seconds in advance and get the crew out fast,” he explained.

Control centre

A critical requirement will be the building of a Mission Control Centre (MCC) to monitor the mission during its ascent, orbital and descent phase. The facilities at the spaceport at Sriharikota and ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Centre (ISTRAC), Bangalore, will be used for the MCC.

A new launch pad — it will be the third — will be built at Sriharikota with facilities to take the astronauts into the rocket and quarantine them. There will be crew-conditioning facilities to take care of them after they return from space. In space, the astronauts will conduct experiments relating to agricultural seeds, material processing and the growth of bacteria in space environment.