Expanding on the resounding success of Chandrayaan-3, India is embarking on the preliminary phases of the ambitious Gaganyaan mission. This Saturday, a live test of Gaganyaan’s crew module escape system is scheduled to take place in Sriharikota. This marks the first in a series of 20 major tests that ISRO has outlined as part of its pursuit of realizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s grand vision of establishing an Indian Space Station by 2035 and launching an Indian astronaut to the Moon by 2040.
Dr. Unnikrishnan Nair, Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center at ISRO, a pivotal contributor to India’s human space program, underscores, “Gaganyaan is an ambitious yet attainable endeavor, as India possesses the requisite technology, with the government having already allocated ₹9,000 crore for this purpose.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has steadfastly committed to India’s mission to establish an Indian Space Station by 2035 and send an Indian to the Moon by 2040. Nair stresses the inevitability of human presence on the Moon, emphasizing that India, as a nation with 1.4 billion citizens, cannot afford to lag behind. Consequently, ISRO is actively gearing up to offer independent access to space for its citizens. PM Modi envisions a comprehensive roadmap for lunar exploration, encompassing Chandrayaan missions, the development of a Next Generation Launch Vehicle (NGLV), the construction of a new launch pad, the establishment of human-centric laboratories, and the integration of associated technologies.
A critical phase in the Gaganyaan mission seeks to address essential questions. How will astronauts be safeguarded in the event of unforeseen circumstances? Will the test capsule successfully detach from the rocket? Will emergency parachutes deploy prior to the crew escape system’s descent into the Indian Ocean? ISRO will execute a crew escape system test to validate the rocket’s safety protocols before embarking on manned orbital missions.
Under the ambitious Gaganyaan program, ISRO aspires to launch an Indian astronaut into space from Indian soil using an indigenous rocket post-2024. The Indian crew module is designed to accommodate a crew of three astronauts, facilitating missions lasting up to a week within a low Earth orbit. Initial tests of the crew module will occur without astronauts, and an abort test is slated for an altitude of 17 kilometers, with the crew module’s retrieval to be executed by the Indian Navy from the Bay of Bengal. A series of such tests will be carried out, and the success of nearly two dozen or more of these critical tests will determine the selection of the four designated astronauts for the upcoming mission.
The Gaganyaan Mission is poised for liftoff from Sriharikota, marking a historic event as it propels an Indian astronaut into the realm of space. The forthcoming Crew Escape System test stands as a pivotal milestone preceding human spaceflights. The crew module, a product of ISRO, is wholly conceived and developed in India. The chosen rocket, Launch Vehicle Mark-3, has received official certification for human spaceflight. Four astronauts have been rigorously trained, all hailing from the Indian Air Force (IAF) as test pilots, and all four happen to be male, owing to the absence of female test pilots in India at the time. Dr. Nair affirms that gender inclusivity is a priority, and women may be incorporated into future missions, emphasizing that ISRO values talent irrespective of gender. The Gaganyaan Mission will feature the use of Russian-made flight suits.
However, ISRO’s formidable undertaking, the Gaganyaan Mission, aimed at sending an Indian astronaut into space, poses a significant challenge to the scientists involved, as it marks the first instance where ISRO ventures into human spaceflight. Dr. Unnikrishnan Nair acknowledges the potential glory that this achievement could bring to India, as it would position the country as the fourth nation worldwide to possess independent human spaceflight capabilities, following in the footsteps of Russia, the USA, and China. Dr. Nair conveys a blend of assurance and anticipation, stating, “I am not apprehensive about Gaganyaan; we need to meticulously prepare, but Gaganyaan will unquestionably quicken our pulses.”